Nvidia Tegra 4 supercharges smartphones (hands-on video)

Nvidia's latest Tegra 4 and Tegra 4i processors aim to boost gaming performance and battery life. We go hands-on with its reference devices.

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BARCELONA, Spain--Nvidia's latest mobile processor, the Tegra 4, and its little brother, the Tegra 4i, will soon be turning up in all manner of smartphones and tablets. I went hands-on with some of Nvidia's reference devices at Mobile World Congress and found the new silicon to deliver some impressive results.

Like the Tegra 3 chip before it, the Tegra 4 is a quad-core processor with a fifth power-saving core for less intense tasks. Based on ARM's latest Cortex A-15 platform, it boasts a faster clock speed and a whopping 72 GPU cores -- that's six times the graphics grunt offered by the Tegra 3 chips.

There aren't currently any devices running the new chips, but Nvidia had some reference tablets to show it off. I booted up the Geekbench 2 benchmark test on one of the 1080p slates and was quickly given the superb score of 4,166. By comparison, Google's Nexus 7 , running the Tegra 3 chip, achieved 1,536 -- and that's far from sluggish.

I was shown the game Zombie Driver, too. It's been optimized for the Tegra 4 chip, making full use of dynamic, real-time shadows and high-definition graphics on the 1080p display. It seemed to run extremely smoothly with high frame rates that will no doubt keep casual gamers satisfied.

That sort of power will typically have a huge drain on battery life, but Nvidia reckons it's able to be surprisingly sparing with the juice. Indeed, I saw a phone running a high-definition video clip on a 1080p display that was generating around 900 milliwatts of power -- around 25 percent less than the typical smartphone. We'll see how those figures really stack up when we get finished products in our hands.

The Tegra 4i is the little brother to full-fat Tegra 4. It packs in fewer GPU cores, but still boasts the four-plus-one CPU, delivering up to 2.3GHz clock speeds. Unlike the super-elite Tegra 4, the 4i is aimed more toward the midrange market. I wasn't allowed to touch the Pheonix reference phone, but the glossy game Real Boxing certainly looked impressive. Perhaps not enough to challenge consoles, but certainly better than you'd expect from most current phones.

The Tegra 4 chip is due to make its appearance in devices from the second quarter of this year -- so far, ZTE has announced it will use it -- with the Tegra 4i arriving toward the end of the year. As well as a whole slew of Android phones and tablets, Nvidia tentatively mentioned it will also appear in Windows RT slates. With its increased speed, it's likely the next wave of RT devices will have the power to challenge even today's low- to midrange laptops.

 

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