Back in January I covered Nvidia’s mobile roadmap detailing a next-generation Tegra processor code-named Kal-El. Right now, iPad 2’s A5 chip rules the mobile landscape with an Apple-advertised nine-fold jump in graphics performance from the previous generation. But Tegra 3 looks like a game-changer, too. The chip combines four processing cores with twelve GeForce graphics units with stereoscopic 3D support.

If the above video dubbed “Glowball” is anything to go by, Tegra 3-powered tablets and smartphones due later this year could obsolete iPad 2’s shiny graphics. The demo features a brilliant lit, bouncing ball which is also the light source that casts its effect on different objects. It includes true dynamic lighting rendered in real-time with physics, the first time this type of lighting is feasible on a mobile device. Nvidia explains:

Glowball also leverages the accelerometer inside the device, affecting real-time movements of drapes throughout the game. As the user tilts the device, the gravity in the scene changes and drapes respond accordingly. The movements are calculated using physics and are simulated across Project Kal-El’s four CPU cores. Again, no canned animations. As the ball rolls through the drapes, they respond how you’d expect them to in real life. In addition, as the ball collides into the jack-in-the-boxes and barrels, the scene responds. Notice how the visual quality degrades when only two CPU cores are used. It’s clear that the quad-core processor in Project Kal-El is required for this level of realism.

If this pans out as Nvidia planned, the quad-core Tegra 3 chip will give Apple’s iPhone/iPad processors a real run for their money. Even though Nvidia’s Tegra and Apple’s A4/A5 are both based on CPU blueprints from UK-based ARM Holdings (which has Intel in its cross-hair), Nvidia’s silicon has two capital advantages: Power efficiency and graphics expertise. Read on….


Most makers of mobile processors, including Apple, Samsung, Texas Instruments and Qualcomm, license their graphics technology from Imagination Technologies, best known for their PowerVR graphics cores. Nvidia, however, uses its own, very mature GeForce mobile graphics designs. The key difference between the PowerVR graphics and the GeForce GPU is the former’s use of tile-based rendering, which is not very efficient way to render graphics compared to Nvidia’s shared-based approach. Today, most non-Apple tablets run Nvidia’s Tegra 2 chips like the the T20 that combines an ARM-based 1GHz dual-core Cortex-A9 processor. That processor is already being phased out and replaced with the newer Tegra 2 3D offerings, such as the T25 and AP25 chips for smartphones and tablets that up the CPU frequency to 1.2GHz and add support for 3D displays.