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Acer Iconia Tab A500: A Tablet With Honeycomb 3.1

GPU Performance: Tegra 2

As we’ve mentioned in the past, mobile devices like smartphones and tablets use what’s known as a system-on-chip (SoC). This integrates the processor, GPU, RAM, and several other subsystems onto single device. Since all of those components sit next to each other on the same chip, there is greater efficiency in data transfers, while reducing the amount of space consumed on the PCB.

Apple A4 (iPad)Apple A5 (iPad 2)Tegra 2 (Xoom/Iconia A500)
Processor1 GHz ARM Cortex-A8 (single-core)1 GHz ARM Cortex-A9 (dual-core)1 GHz ARM Cortex-A9 (dual-core)
Memory256 MB 333 MHz LP-DDR (single-channel)512 MB 1066 MHz LP-DDR2 (dual-channel)1 GB 667 MHz LP-DDR2 (single-channel)
GraphicsPowerVR SGX535 (single-core)PowerVR SGX545MP2 (dual-core)ULP GeForce (single-core)
L1 Cache(Instruction/Data)32 KB / 32 KB32 KB / 32 KB32 KB / 32 KB
L2 Cache640 KB1 MB1 MB

Tegra is Nvidia’s SoC brand, and it symbolizes the company’s effort to tap into the mobile market beyond its desktop-derived GeForce graphics processors. A lot of engineering is tied up in this initiative, and what we see today in tablets like the Xoom represents the company's second incarnation of Tegra.

You may be asking "What happened to the first Tegra?" Flatly, it was far less impressive, even when it hit the market in 2009. Compared to Apple’s A4, it was a much more conservative design. Nvidia choose the older ARM11 processor, which probably explains the lack of design wins. Microsoft’s Zune HD was the only major product that employed the original Tegra.

Tegra 2

Tegra 2 is an entirely different beast. It’s based on the Cortex-A9, which is a generation ahead of the older ARM11. This is the same CPU seen in Apple’s A5 (iPad 2). Read Apple's iPad 2 Review: Tom's Goes Down The Tablet Rabbit Hole for a full discussion of Cortex-A9 performance.

Tegra 2: Graphics Pipeline

The ultra-low power GeForce isn't just a physically smaller GPU than the A5’s SGX 543MP2. Unlike Nvidia's desktop GPUs, Tegra 2 is based on an architecture that pre-dates its unified design. So, you’re looking at four pixel shader cores and four vertex shader cores. This means Tegra 2 operates most efficiently when it's presented with an even mix of vertex and shader code. We expect Nvidia to address that constraint in Tegra 3 (code named Kal-El).

GPU (System-on-Chip)PowerVR SGX 535(Apple A4)PowerVR SGX 543(Apple A5)ULP GeForce (Tegra 2)
SIMDUSSEUSSE2Core
Pipelines2 (unified)4 (unified)8 (4 pixel / 4 vertex)
TMUs222
Bus Width (bit)646432
Triangle rate @ 200 MHz14 MTriangles/s35 MTriangles/s?

The ULP GeForce has a maximum operating frequency of 300 MHz, but device vendors can tweak this setting to save on power. Nvidia provides less information on the Tegra 2 than it does for its desktop GPUs, so it’s best to move on to benchmarks. As in our iPad 2 review, we're turning to GLBenchmark 2.0.

In terms of frames rendered in a set period of time, the Xoom and Iconia A500 offer more performance than the original iPad but both still falls short of the iPad 2. Interestingly, the Iconia A500 falls ever so slightly behind the Xoom. We don't have performance numbers for the Xoom after the 3.1 update, which makes this a difficult comparison. Google added a performance-oriented optimizations in 3.1 that explain the large delta.

GPU (System-on-Chip)PowerVR SGX 535(Apple A4)PowerVR SGX 543(Apple A5)ULP GeForce (Tegra 2)
SIMDUSSEUSSE2Core
ChannelsSingleDualSingle
Memory Bandwidth2.6 GB/s17.0 GB/s2.6 GB/s

You can't use fill or triangle rates to draw a direct comparison of how well Tegra 2 utilizes its memory bandwidth, even though it's a quick-and-dirty way of sizing up other mobile GPUs.

GLBenchmark 2.0Apple iPad(iOS 4.3)Apple iPad 2(iOS 4.3)Motorola Xoom(3.0)Acer Iconia A500(3.0)Acer Iconia A500 (3.1)
Egypt frames (frames)5755075137112022304
Egypt with FSAA (frames)4365057---
Pro (frames)8802897134712251865
Pro with FSAA (frames)6722851---
Egypt with FSAA Fixed Time (sec)825.665.0---
Pro with FSAA Fixed Time (sec)123.322.6---
Swap Buffer Test (frames)600599603526614
Fill Test (texture fetch) ktexel/s17098091855112989712216416766
Trigonometric Test (vertex weighted) kvertex/s10393326263222923159
Trigonometric Test (fragment weighted) kfragment/s1191351244524577563
Trigonometric test (balanced) kshader/s1259315825432600311
Exponential Test (vertex weighted) kvertex/s31303535262822912781
Exponential Test (fragment weighted) kfragment/s377411165300329654961
Exponential Test (balanced) kshader/s204311735165616582575
Common Test (vertex weighted) kvertex/s15243727197322702477
Common Test (fragment weighted) kfragment/s16343699445145847964
Common Test (balanced) kshader/s10654114253027224513
Geometric Test (Vertex Weighted) kvertex/s19493776131613751465
Geometric Test (Fragment Weighted) kfragment/s20816388288828705639
Geometric Test (Balanced) kshader/s12816181162816383129
For Loop Test (Vertex Weighted) kvertex/s16713860131513731468
For Loop Test (Fragment Weighted) kfragment/s184262377271720211856
For Loop Test (balanced) kshader/s12753718358336045320
Branching Test (vertex weighted) kvertex/s39063778263325013443
Branching Test (fragment weighted) kfragment/s604522557321131533995
Branching Test (balanced) kshader/s210611193149314961858
Array Test (uniform array access) kvertex/s29183658394634385487
Triangle Test (white) ktriangle/s95482995712595970814613
Triangle Test (textured, vertex lit) ktriangle/s70582112910520917112517
  • joytech22
    I have this tablet and I absolutely love it.
    It's great fun, has a great battery life compared to my laptops and I just enjoy it.

    I take it to college (I do I.T Cert IV, Diploma next year) and it's very handy for drafting documentation when working with the computers and taking notes.
    Reply
  • acku
    Good luck on the Cert!

    Cheers,
    Andrew Ku
    TomsHardware.com
    Reply
  • Malachi1975
    I picked up the A500 after doing a hell of a lot of shopping for an Android Tablet and I have yet to look back with regrets. In fact, I have recommended it to several others who have picked it up. Compared to some of the other leading tablets out there, I would still choose the A500 time and again.
    Reply
  • The latest update for Motorola Xoom (3.2) has MicroSD support.
    Reply
  • acku
    ThisIsKevinYoThe latest update for Motorola Xoom (3.2) has MicroSD support.Yeah I saw an email from Motorola. The OTA update is rolling out in stages, which is why my Xoom probably didn't get the update last week. I need to test it out to confirm that it works.
    Reply
  • This summed it up for me: "The Iconia A500 isn't any different from other tablets; you're paying more than you would for a better-performing notebook."

    If I'm to pay a significant fee for a niche product, it had better be really good at a specific purpose. Better at it, in fact, than other, cheaper products. I got my kindle despite the fact that you can read ebooks on computers, smart phones, ipods, etc, because it damn well did a great job of being a book. It did it better than these other devices. The form factor combined with the great battery life and easy on the eyes screen made it worth it. Plus, you can read it in sunlight.

    What then, is the purpose of buying a tablet over, say, a netbook? The tablet is geared at media consumption, but it doesn't do a significantly better job of that than the netbook. In fact, it does a worse job of it, allowing me fewer media options, while simultaneously costing more and having less storage, with an OS that won't run proper, useful software.

    Maybe they'll get better, but right now, they're overpriced toys.
    Reply
  • ubercake
    First, let me say I can't stand Apple and I wasn't too impressed with the Zune. Because of its hardware, there is a lot of potential with the A500. The games look impressive with the Tegra2 and the nice screen. The sound is great for a tablet. The cameras (front and rear) are better than those available on the iPad.This is why I looked only at the Android Tablets when I shopped for a tablet.

    I bought the A500 under the assumption Skype, Netflix, HBO2Go, and Xfinity were standard apps across the Android offering. Turns out Netflix and Skype will run on newer phones with earlier versions of Android, but not this one.

    Xfinity and HBO2Go are yet to be created for Android.

    I worked with the network admin at my job to get this running on the network there (we are currently evaluating handhelds in the workplace) and we found it doesn't work on all PEAP/Wep Wifi network combos. It won't even connect out of the box. I read up on 'Advanced Network tools' for Android and found that people on earlier versions of Android were able to connect to this type of network using these tools. By golly they didn't work on this version.

    Additionally, those on screen keypads are frustrating. The lag is apparent if you have any typing ability beyond the 40wpm mark. If you type too quickly, it won't even pick up your laters as I think it recognizes them as "mistake touches".

    I've owned my A500 for around 2 months now. I've picked it up to use it around 10 times since I've gotten it primarily only because someone else was on my favorite laptop and I wanted to browse the web. I keep waiting for the update to let me do all the things I still can't and it hasn't come.

    The finger swipe games are fun for people who are into that. I'm not. There are plenty available.

    Again, I can't stand Apple, but out of the box we got the iPad on our corporate network and it plays Netflix, HBO2go, Xfinity and does Skype. While the hardware seems extremely advanced with these Android tablets, it seems the newer OSs are taking steps back in time.

    As a result, I've found this device to be an over-sized mediocre gaming device (like a DS) with OK web browsing capabilities since not everything works in the browsers on Android. It has plenty of potential since the hardware is great, but these things aren't ready for prime time. Look for mine on Ebay come late November if they don't pick up on real software support for these things or if I still can't connect to my corporate network.

    I sum it up as such:

    Unrealized potential means nothing!
    "Oh he was always so smart, but he just didn't apply himself" - kind of like that.
    Reply
  • obarthelemy
    "lack of apps"... Which apps exactly ? There ain't thousands of identical apps, but which apps are currently missing on Android ?
    Reply
  • cknobman
    Ive played with the Iconia first hand in a Best Buy along side other Android tablets (Xoom, Toshiba, Asus) and I thought the Iconia felt cheap and unpolished.

    Out of every tablet I have played with so far(sorry havent seen a Galaxy yet) the Asus is a homerun and there is absolutely no chance I would buy the Iconia or any other Android tablet besides the Asus.
    Reply
  • Kahless01
    Didnt seem to catch my last comment. I believe your price is wrong. They price dropped the A500 recently and added a 32gb model to the lineup. There is a 64gb model on the way and they are also adding 3g/4g. Ive had my A500 for 2 months and forced 3.1 on it because i got tired of waiting for the update. Not missing my laptop too much beyond storage space for all my movies.
    Reply