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Tegra 3: The Quad-Core SoC That Goes To Five

Asus Transformer Prime TF201: A Tablet With A Higher Calling
By
SoC
Apple A5XTegra 3
Fab Node
45 nm40 nm
Processor
1 GHz ARM Cortex-A9 (dual-core)1.4 GHz ARM Cortex-A9 (quad-core)
Graphics
PowerVR SGX543MP4 (quad-core)ULP GeForce
L1 Cache
(Instruction/Data)
32 KB / 32 KB32 KB / 32 KB
L2 Cache1 MB1 MB


Tegra 3 (code name: Kal-El) isn’t particularly new to us. We've already run demos on devices and discussed this architecture prior to today's review. However, the iPad 3's introduction as a rival sparks renewed interest in how Nvidia’s architecture compares to Apple’s A5X.

GeekBench v2.2.7 Results
iPad 2
iPad 3
Dell Mini 1012
LePan II
Transformer Prime
CPU
Apple A5
Apple A5X
Atom N450
APQ8060
Tegra 3
Architecture
Dual-core A9
Dual-core A9
Single-Core Atom
Dual-core ScorpionQuad-core A9
Speed
1 GHz1 GHz1.66 GHz1.2 GHz1.4 GHz
Overall
764
760
917
649
1194
Integer
691
687
910
709
1781
Floating Point
921
920
762
943
1781
Memory
830
825
1105
362
1091


In terms of raw processing potential, Tegra 3 leads the pack by a large margin. Software optimizations and clock rates aside, increased parallelization allows Nvidia's SoC to work on more data concurrently. Similar to the desktop space, adding cores doesn't turn out to have a multiplicative effect on most real-world applications. But an enhanced ability to multitask is nice, especially as resource-hungry background tasks pile up.

Of course, bolstering performance often incurs higher power consumption at the same time. Nvidia, anticipating this, addressed power from a creative angle.

Kal-El
Companion CPU Core
Main CPU Cores (Symmetric Processing)
# of Cores
1
4
Function
Power-Optimized (Standby)
Performance
Architecture
Cortex A9
Cortex A9
Process Technology
Low Power (LP)
General
Operating Frequency
0 MHz to 500 MHz
0 MHz to Max Frequency


Kal-El sports a fifth "companion" CPU core that operates at lower frequencies and handles background tasks like syncing email, playing ringtones, and keeping applications alive while the device is in standby mode. It's hard to quantify the exact benefit of Nvidia's implementation since there aren't any Tegra 3s that lack the fifth core. However, the company's engineers clearly felt strong enough about its effect (particularly coupled with low-power silicon) that they were willing to dedicate precious die space to what was considered a power-optimized design.

Borrowing a page from Qualcomm's book, Nvidia employs an asymmetrical clock scheme that's similar to Turbo Boost, except that it allows the companion core to operate at a different frequency. It also incorporates Advanced SIMD (called NEON), which lets the CPU perform certain tasks (like playing MP3 audio) at extremely low CPU speeds, generally between 10-20 MHz. Qualcomm made a name for itself using a similar design, and the result is a processor with very low power consumption that can deliver performance when it's needed. Read Third-Generation Snapdragon: The Dual-Core Scorpion for more information on Qualcomm's solution.

Kal-El: Four Tabs in Chrome on ARM-based Windows 8Kal-El: Four Tabs in Chrome on ARM-based Windows 8

There’s every reason to believe that this hybrid approach should work well. However, realizing gains with this approach depends on Nvidia to work within the constraints of operating system design. Purposely, Tegra 3 doesn't expose the fifth CPU core to the OS. Rather, it operates in the background without any management from the operating system. That means “low-overhead tasks” have to be identified by the hardware and handled by its companion core.

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Top Comments
  • 26 Hide
    cangelini , April 19, 2012 6:56 AM
    Quote:
    Is this a joke? Wait for the new iPad to come out and then review the Transformer Prime? Why didn't you review it sooner? Did Asus miss a payment or did Apple give you a little extra to keep a lid on it?


    Because we didn't have it sooner.
  • 20 Hide
    joytech22 , April 19, 2012 9:58 AM
    DjEaZymy point waz... prime is a nice thingy, but, if there are proprietary stuff on a open platform, like android... i don't believe, that Tegra can get some momentum without going open source... the question is... how big is the Tegra's market share on the android platform? ... and... is the market share for Tegra so big, that they can insist to use there proprietary things?...


    Ehh...? I have no idea what you are trying to get at.
    Is it your first time on the internet? :\
  • 16 Hide
    joytech22 , April 19, 2012 7:32 AM
    I was thinking of getting this until I caught wind of the Transformer T701.
    I think the 1080p display is worth the wait.
Other Comments
  • 26 Hide
    cangelini , April 19, 2012 6:56 AM
    Quote:
    Is this a joke? Wait for the new iPad to come out and then review the Transformer Prime? Why didn't you review it sooner? Did Asus miss a payment or did Apple give you a little extra to keep a lid on it?


    Because we didn't have it sooner.
  • 16 Hide
    joytech22 , April 19, 2012 7:32 AM
    I was thinking of getting this until I caught wind of the Transformer T701.
    I think the 1080p display is worth the wait.
  • 4 Hide
    Anonymous , April 19, 2012 8:43 AM
    "While the Transformer Prime supports output over microHDMI, it cannot push 1080p through the wire" ...When using hardware decoding, Transformer Prime actually pushes true 1080p-video to the television (..while the tablets screen remains unused = black). As an owner of TF201, I can confirm this.
  • 20 Hide
    joytech22 , April 19, 2012 9:58 AM
    DjEaZymy point waz... prime is a nice thingy, but, if there are proprietary stuff on a open platform, like android... i don't believe, that Tegra can get some momentum without going open source... the question is... how big is the Tegra's market share on the android platform? ... and... is the market share for Tegra so big, that they can insist to use there proprietary things?...


    Ehh...? I have no idea what you are trying to get at.
    Is it your first time on the internet? :\
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , April 19, 2012 11:18 AM
    In Italy Asus decided not to give the free dongle, because they say that it was selled as a localization system, and not a GPS, therefor, they will not help us improve our tablet experience. Since the prime doesn't have a 3G connectivity, I don't think the GPS is that important, also, a 10" GPS is quite annoying. I prefer to use the phone. Great review by the way. Although I don't trust benchmarka, nor asus ICS updates. At the biginning the wi-fi was working great, no overconsumption of power, now my battery drains in hours.
  • 2 Hide
    razor512 , April 19, 2012 12:38 PM
    If you are going to use a tablet as more of a netbook then why not buy a netbook that will be faster, for significantly less money?

    Netbooks, and many notebooks have gotten compact to a point where if it isn't possible for you to have a notebook or netbook with you, then you wont be able to have a tablet either.

    I understand wanting to do more productivity related tasks, but for the cost, you can easily do something like buy a upper mid range notebook, or a cheaper netbook then use the left over money to buy a lower cost tablet such as the HP touchpad. (android development is going nicely, and it is fast enough to handle 1080p video and any other task and app smoothly, and when both cores overclocked 1.8GHz+ it offers general performance similar to the transformer prime (for CPU bound tasks, (remember very few programs can actually take advantage of a quad core CPU on an android device, they just weren't written that way)
  • 1 Hide
    gaborbarla , April 19, 2012 12:51 PM
    Well I got my tegra 3 Transformer Prime about a month ago, and updated it promptly to ICS 4.0.3.

    All was well. Then more recently there was a mysterious more recent firmware update and I applied it.

    Now my ASUS background had shooting stars and birds flying. Very beatiful. However, as it seems since this patch the Prime just became very unresponsive, browser scrolling was choppy and often tapping an icon or paging didnt respond the first time... Then I decided to uninstall some apps, but to no avail. A bit later I removed the ASUS animating background which I think is now way overdone (with a shooting star every 10 seconds) and VOALA it is smooth again like a well aged whiskey. How can ASUS not pick this up, or is it just my device?
  • 2 Hide
    chesteracorgi , April 19, 2012 1:29 PM
    Until there is cross platform integration of Android with a main OS on the desktop, be it Windows, IOS or Ubuntu, the Androids will be relegated to phones and toys for video. What might be a killer app/hardware combo would be a pad with Win 8 at $200. Until they OEMs come up with something that unifies phones/tablets/laptops/desktops there is no reason for most consumers to buy these expensive toys.
  • 1 Hide
    lamorpa , April 19, 2012 1:42 PM
    DjEaZy...i do believe, that it iz a ...

    az

  • 3 Hide
    halcyon , April 19, 2012 2:00 PM
    I had the Transformer Prime...in fact (and this is an account many of you have already heard)...I had 5 of them. They all had pixel defects (dead or bad pixels)...so apparently they all came from the same bad batch. I'm sure that was unique but at the time it really left a very sour taste in my mouth.

    The thing I really noticed about the Transformer Prime was how svelte it was. I never did anything to tap into the 4 cores of power really but it was fast. If it hadn't been for the screen issues I'd still have it...but I have to admit the 3rd Gen iPad that I subsequently replaced the Transformer Prime with hasn't left anything to be desired...for me any ways. I like the screen on the iPad better but that's probably just me.
  • 3 Hide
    dvanburen , April 19, 2012 3:42 PM
    If I spent this much on a tablet and had GPS issues I would be pissed. A dongle wouldn't cut it as it negates the while reason of owning a nice tablet: form factor and portability.

    It would also be nice if they would rate minimum brightness. This is important to some of us that use a tablet in bed after the wife (or significant other) is asleep.
  • -6 Hide
    halcyon , April 19, 2012 3:51 PM
    dvanburenIf I spent this much on a tablet and had GPS issues I would be pissed. A dongle wouldn't cut it as it negates the while reason of owning a nice tablet: form factor and portability.It would also be nice if they would rate minimum brightness. This is important to some of us that use a tablet in bed after the wife (or significant other) is asleep.

    Ssshhhh...it doesn't matter what might be wrong with the the Transformer Prime, the fact is, its not an Apple product...so its better. Do you understand now?
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , April 19, 2012 4:30 PM
    I want a Medfield design.
  • 1 Hide
    LordConrad , April 19, 2012 6:39 PM
    wake me when the T701 review comes out...
  • 1 Hide
    adampower , April 19, 2012 6:50 PM
    dvanburenIf I spent this much on a tablet and had GPS issues I would be pissed. A dongle wouldn't cut it as it negates the while reason of owning a nice tablet: form factor and portability.


    I like the dongle. If I need to use the GPS I can plug it in. If I don't.. there's no Apple, Google, x-wife, anybody tracking my tablet.
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