Nvidia is stepping up its game in the smartphone market with the introduction of its first system on chip (SoC) with an integrated 4G LTE radio, the Tegra 4i. The latter joins the upcoming Tegra 4 chip for tablets and “superphones” as a more affordable alternative destined for devices in the $100 to $200 range.
That’s not to say Nvidia is pitching it as a low end product. According to the company, it still has the highest performance of any single-chip smartphone processor and will result in devices with killer 3D graphics.
Specifics include four ARM Cortex A9 cores clocked at 2.3GHz along with a lower power fifth battery saver core -- a design first implemented with the Tegra 3. That’s a step down from the ARM A15 cores used in the full fledged Tegra 4 processor but the 4i touts 60 graphics cores versus the 12 of its Tegra 3 predecessor, and inherits the high dynamic range photography and video engine of Tegra 4.
Nvidia’s i500 chip will provide 4G LTE connectivity at up to 100 Megabits per second. The chip uses what’s known as a software-defined radio -- a technology it gained from 2011’s Icera acquisition -- allowing it to work on a variety of 3G and 4G cellular networks and be upgraded to include new features. All in all the Tegra 4i's core size is 1.2 mm2 which is incredibly small compared to the Tegra 4's 2.7 mm2 core size.
Although Nvidia has seen some success with Tegra on tablets the company has struggled to gain ground in the smartphone market, largely because it didn’t offer an integrated modem on its chips like Qualcomm. An integrated modem lowers the number of parts inside the phone as well as the overall cost.
Nvidia hopes the new Tegra 4i will help it better address this key market and has even announced a reference smartphone design for manufacturers to use as a starting point. Dubbed Phoenix, the design in question features a 5-inch, 1080p display as well as an 8mm thick body.