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Tegra 3-powered Windows 8 tablet Review

Tegra 3-powered Windows 8 tablet

Android tablets powered by Nvidia’s quad-core Tegra 3 processors will hit the market before the holiday season, according to company CEO Jen-Hsun Huang — who added that next year’s Windows 8 versions will be able to run Windows Phone 7 apps. Meanwhile, there are persistent rumors that Microsoft will give a Tegra 3-powered tablet to attendees at next week’s BUILD conference.

Nvidia announced its quad-core system on chip (SoC) — codenamed Kal-El — in February, and demonstrated it at the Computex show in late May. More energy-efficient than the Tegra 2, the Tegra 3 will feature a twelve-core GeForce GPU (graphics processing unit), and will enable mobile devices to provide 1440p (2560 x 1440 pixel) resolution, the company says.

Nvidia provided a Tegra 3 update via a financial presentation Sept. 6, during which the company touted not only its traditional graphics business, but also its growing mobile computing technology. (For its fiscal year 2013 — which begins Jan. 30, 2012 — Nvidia expects revenues of $4.7 billion to $5 billion, more than the $4.45 billion expected by analysts.)

Quoted by The Wall Street Journal and other sources, CEO Jen-Hsun Huang (pictured) conceded that the Tegra 3 is shipping a little later than originally expected. But, he promised, the first devices using the mobile chip will be available in the third or fourth quarter in time for the holiday season.

Apparently, initial Tegra 3 devices will be running Google’s Android operating system, as our sister publication LinuxDevices.com has reported. But the Tegra 3 will be in Windows 8 tablet computers by the end of next year, Huang is said to have promised this week.

“Windows 8 on ARM is going to be delightful,” Huang was quoted by the Journal as saying. “The future personal computer post-Windows 8 is going to change your mind about Windows altogether.”

According to a CNet report, Huang went so far as to suggest that applications written for Windows Phone 7 — using tools such as HTML5 and Silverlight rather than .NET — will run on Windows 8. This goes beyond anything Microsoft itself has yet promised, and, if true, will be a substantial shot in the ARM (sorry!) to Redmond’s lagging smartphone operating system.

Meanwhile, there are persistent rumors that Microsoft will give a quad-core, ARM-powered tablet to attendees at its BUILD conference, which begins Sept. 13. The device, which could employ either Nvidia’s Tegra 3 or a Qualcomm chip (see later for background), would presumably be equipped with a pre-release version of Windows 8.

The chat about this began after Microsoft Enterprise Strategist Jeff Johnson took to the stage at a New Zealand conference last month to show off what he said was a “quad-core Windows slate that will be give(n) out at an upcoming Microsoft event.” Such a tablet could employ an Intel CPU, but Winrumors‘ writer Tom Warren and This Is My Next‘s Thomas Ricker cite their own sources as saying it will be ARM-powered.

A Sept. 7 report by the AFP News Service, citing a Korea Economic Daily story, claimed the tablet to be unveiled at BUILD will be manufactured by Samsung. Winrumors subsequently noted that the device brandished in New Zealand by Microsoft’s Johnson was “nearly identical in appearance” to the Series 7 tablet (above) Samsung announced last month. (For what it’s worth, that device runs Windows 7 on a dual-core Intel processor.)

The competition

Nvidia’s Huang told the Journal that at this point, the only real competition Nvidia has in the mobile chip space is Qualcomm. “Aside from the two of us, there’s really not too many people actively on the dance floor,” he was quoted as saying. “It’s mostly us and Qualcomm competing for most of the slots.”

Qualcomm announced its plans to offer a quad-core Snapdragon back in February featuring new “Krait” cores, and more details about a quad-core, 2.5GHz MSM8974 Snapdragon (pictured above) emerged in July. The SoCs will also integrate a quad-core Adreno 320 GPU that performs 15 times faster than the original Adreno, according to Qualcomm in February.

The MSM8974, however, is not set to sample until early 2012, putting it significantly behind Nvidia. In much the same way, the dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon is only now beginning to supplant the Tegra 2 in Honeycomb tablets such as the new HTC Jetstream.

Both the Tegra 3 and Qualcomm’s Krait-based processors are Cortex-A9 implementations. (Actually, Qualcomm calls its cores compatible with Cortex-A9, but says they are even more powerful.).

Texas Instruments has already announced OMAP5 SoCs based on ARM’s next-generation, multicore Cortex-A15 architecture. ST-Ericsson followed up by announcing an ARM Cortex-A15 Nova A9600. Initial models on the TI and ST-Ericsson SoCs will be limited to two cores, however.

The Cortex-A15 architecture features an out-of-order superscalar pipeline that can dispatch up to three instructions per cycle, according to ARM. In addition, it provides an improved instruction set, hardware support for virtualization, and the ability to utilize up to 1TB of memory.

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