(By Mani) Nvidia Corporation (NASDAQ: NVDA) has pre-empted Mobile World Congress (Feb.25 to Feb.28) by announcing sample availability of its Tegra 4i processor, formerly code-named Project Grey. The Tegra 4i is the first fully integrated 4G LTE mobile processor, and it could be a potential threat to Qualcomm, Inc. (NASDAQ: QCOM) if it is cost and performance are competitive.
T4i integrates a quad-core ARM Cortex-A9 and features 60 custom NVIDIA GPU cores; a fifth battery saver core, and a version of the NVIDIA i500 LTE modem optimized for integration.
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The company claims the enhanced features will result in an extremely power efficient, compact, high-performance mobile processor that enables smartphone performance and capability previously available in expensive super phones only, apart from providing long battery life.
Tegra 4i's new 2.3 GHz CPU uses the latest and greatest revision of Cortex-A9, which was defined by ARM with help from NVIDIA, and is the most efficient, highest performance CPU core in its class.
Utilizing the same architecture as Tegra 4's GPU, Tegra 4i features five times the number of GPU cores of Tegra 3 for high-quality, console-quality gaming experiences and full 1080p HD displays. It also integrates an optimized version of the NVIDIA i500 software-defined radio modem which provides LTE capabilities and makes networking upgradability and scalability fast and easy.
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In addition, Tegra 4i mobile processor's camera capabilities include the NVIDIA Chimera Computational Photography Architecture recently announced in Tegra 4. This delivers many advanced features, including the always-on high dynamic range (HDR) capabilities, tap to track functionality and first panoramic photos with HDR.
T4i, which is potentially disruptive in the mainstream smartphone category, should ramp later in fiscal 2014 and drive meaningful sales in fiscal 2015.
As Tegra 4i could offer leadership in mainstream smartphones, assuming NVIDIA executes, especially on the Icera baseband, which has not been widely used in voice networks, it could present the most visible threat to Qualcomm.
"Key for this to occur is if NVIDIA could be cost-competitive vs Qualcomm's new Snapdragon 400 but performance competitive with the 600, especially in graphics," UBS analyst Steven Eliscu said in a client note.
Tegra 4i could also dampen the impact of new chips from Broadcom Corporation (NASDAQ:BRCM), Marvell Technology Group Ltd. (NASDAQ:MRVL) and Intel Corporation (NASDAQ:INTC), all of which seek to utilize this fast growing segment as a beachhead to expand their base.
However, it might not be an easy road for Nvidia to compete with Qualcomm, the market leader for smartphone processors. It recently launched Snapdragon 400 processors, which comes in the first option as a 1.7GHz dual-core Krait CPU that offers aSMP (Aysnchronous Symmetric Multiprocessing) and 1.4GHz Quad ARM Cortex-A7 CPUs. It integrates Adreno 305 GPU, enabling 3D gaming, highly responsive user interfaces and fast web browsing.
The processors also supports TDSCDMA, DC-HSPA+ (42Mbps), LPDDR2 or LPDDR3 RAM (Low Power Double Data Rate) Fast RAM gives a speed boost to memory operations, advanced camera features (up to 13.5MP), premium audio, and 1080p video capture and playback are all supported.
Qualcomm also unveiled recently launched new processors – 600 and 800 - in the Snapdragon series and targets premium and high-end mobile devices. Moreover, it has already secured more than 50 design wins with the first products of the Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 and 800 processors
The Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 processor features a new Krait 300 quad-core CPU with speeds up to 1.9GHz, a new speed enhanced Adreno 320 GPU and support for LPDDR3 memory.
Qualcomm also launched its Snapdragon 800 processors that would deliver up to 75 percent better performance than the Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro processor and the 28nm High Performance for mobile (HPm) technology node ensures exceptionally low power.
It features a new Krait 400 CPU in quad configuration, with speeds of up to 2.3 GHz per core offers best-in-class performance per watt, so processor performance can hold up to the demanding processing and communication requirements of premium mobile devices.
A third generation 4G LTE modem with data rates up to 150 Mbps (Category 4), fully integrated in the new Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processors, which features a new Adreno 330 GPU that delivers more than 2x performance for compute applications over the current Adreno 320 GPU. It also has a 2x32bit LP-DDR3 at 800MHz with industry-leading memory bandwidth of 12.8GBps.
Both the Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 and 600 processors are currently sampling and expected to be available in commercial devices by mid-year 2013.
If Nvidia is able to secure design wins through its performance and cost savings, then Tegra 4i could be a strong competitor to Qualcomm's Snapdragon chip.