Tegra 3 - Design Perspective

Published by Marc Büchel on 13.12.11
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Theses days a lot is in change at NVIDIA. The manufacturer that once was market leader for discrete PC and Workstation graphics cards gets growing competition from Intel and AMD with the integrated graphics units. As Moores Law progresses integrated graphics will soon compete with discrete mid range desktop products and NVIDIA needs to be ready for this moment.

NVIDIA is aware of this situation and they decided to invest in developing processors for the tablet market. With Tegra 2 they were able to show a first product that was accepted by manufacturers like ASUS and they put it into their quite successful Transformer tablet PC. For the Tegra 2 NVIDIA licences ARM cores builds their own SoCs (System on a Chip). Mostly they have been put into tablets but not into smartphones.

NVIDIA manufactures their Tegra 2 processors at TSMC. Therefore their using their 40 nanometer triple gate oxide process (LPG). The dual core processors that are based on ARMs Cortex-A9-Design are optimized for performance, which is the reason why clock frequencies up to one Gigahertz could be realized. But compared to competitors Tegra 2 had to fight with the disadvantage of high leakage currents. These were the consequence of the LPG-process. TSMC also offeres an LP process which in the end has leakage currents as a result which are orders of magnitudes lower than with the LPG process. The market leaders like Qualcomm, TI and Samsung are using this process at the moment. The high leakage has also been the reason why there were no smartphones based on NVIDIAs Tegra 2. The problem is, that when the phone is locked the background processes needed to much power to operate and this would drain the battery way too quickly.

Page 1 - Introduction
Page 2 - Less Leakage Power
Page 3 - Cache Hierarchie and Clock Speeds
Page 4 - Is it the right way to go?

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