The Nvidia Shield Tablet And Controller Create A Compelling Package
With desktop PC sales in a slump and consumers increasingly embracing mobile form factors and the cloud, Nvidia's focus is understandably shifting to mobile gaming. In 2013, Nvidia released two consumer products for mobile: the Tegra Note 7 tablet and the Shield, a handheld gaming device with an integrated 5-inch 720p screen and powered by a Tegra 4 SoC. Any doubt regarding Nvidia's commitment to this low power, fast moving market was quelled during CES 2014 when Nvidia announced that all future GPUs would be mobile-first designs.
The goals for Tegra Note 7 and the Shield were promoting the Tegra 4 SoC and pushing Android as a gaming platform. Over the past year, Nvidia has also gleaned valuable feedback and knowledge from these initial products, and greatly expanded the catalog of Shield compatible games by a factor of three. With a foothold firmly established in the mobile ecosystem, Nvidia is now ready to launch the next evolution in mobile gaming.
The new Shield Tablet improves upon the Tegra Note 7 in several ways, and when combined with the all new wireless Shield Controller, provides the same rich gaming experience as the Shield (now called Shield Portable).
The hardware inside the Shield Tablet receives significant upgrades, including Nvidia’s new Tegra K1 SoC. While the Tegra K1 still uses four ARM Cortex-A15 CPUs tuned for high performance and one -A15 companion core that’s optimized for low power just like the Tegra 4 found in the Tegra Note 7, Tegra K1 moves to a 28 nm HPM process and updates the -A15 cores from revision two to revision three. These enhancements boost max CPU clock frequency to 2.2 GHz, a 20% improvement over the Tegra Note 7.
The bump in CPU performance is welcome, but the real gem inside the Tegra K1 is the GPU. Gone is the GeForce ULP from previous Nvidia SoCs, a design that was consistently outgunned by other high-end GPUs. Replacing it is a component derived from the PC Kepler architecture. While this mobile variant of Kepler is understandably scaled down from the desktop version (Tegra K1 contains a single SMX with 192 CUDA cores), it’s still the same architecture and maintains full software compatibility. For more information about the new GPU and Tegra K1, be sure to read our Nvidia Tegra K1 In-Depth article.
We haven’t had a chance to benchmark the Tegra K1 ourselves yet, but if Nvidia’s benchmark results are accurate, we can expect roughly a 3x increase in GPU performance compared to the Adreno 330 in the Samsung Tab Pro 8.4 and the PowerVR G6430 in the iPad Air. This is a huge jump in performance that will easily make Tegra K1 the fastest mobile GPU, faster even than Qualcomm’s latest Adreno 420 in Snapdragon 805. In fact, Nvidia claims that Tegra K1’s performance is similar to the Xbox 360 and PS3 consoles.
The Kepler architecture brings more than just raw performance to the Shield Tablet and mobile in general, it also supports the modern desktop/console graphics APIs, including OpenGL 4.4 and DirectX12. Why is this important? With the same hardware architecture and software API support, along with the performance increase, it means console and PC games can be ported more easily. The Shield Tablet, along with other devices using the Tegra K1, gains access to the extensive game catalogs from the Xbox 360 and PS3. In addition to the potential influx of older console titles, current generation games, with some modification, could also run on the Shield Tablet. With future titles, we could see versions released simultaneously that could run natively on mobile devices. In short, it appears that Tegra K1 and the Shield Tablet may finally usher in a new era in mobile gaming; not one dominated by Flappy Bird clones, but the one we were all hoping for when Nvidia first entered the mobile market.
This was the clear message from Google I/O 2014 where Tegra K1 was running an impressive looking Unreal Engine 4 demo, complete with volumetric fog, advanced lighting, and smoke effects. Part of what makes this possible is support for the Android Extension Pack (AEP), which is a set of graphics API extensions to OpenGL ES 3.1 that help bridge the feature gap with DirectX11.
Pricing And Availability
The Shield Tablet comes in two different configurations: a Wi-Fi only version with 16 GB of internal storage for $299 and a version that comes with LTE and 32 GB of internal storage for $399. The wireless Shield Controller is available separately for $59. There’s also a Shield Cover that protects the screen and functions as a stand for $39.
This is the first consumer product that Nvidia is launching worldwide (the Shield Portable and Tegra Note 7 were available in the U.S. only). The Shield Tablet and accessories will be available July 29 in the U.S. and Canada, with pre-orders starting July 22. The launch date for Europe is August 14 and will be launching in additional regions in fall 2014.
The LTE version will be unlocked and support penta-band LTE (700, 850, 1700, 1900, 2600 MHz) and quad-band UMTS/WCDMA (850, 1700, 1900, 2100 MHz) in North America, which limits it to AT&T and T-Mobile in the U.S. Outside North America it supports four LTE bands (800, 1800, 2100, 2600 MHz) and four UMTS/WCDMA bands (850, 900, 1900, 2100 MHz).