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IDG News Service - Nvidia hopes to power sub-$200 smartphones and tablets under $300 with its latest Tegra 4i processor, which is also the company's first chip with an integrated LTE modem.
The quad-core Tegra 4i will be used by device makers in LTE-capable smartphones and tablets that could arrive by the end of this year. Nvidia did not announce any customers, but will show off a Tegra 4i smartphone prototype with a 5-inch, 1080p high-definition screen and LTE at the upcoming Mobile World Congress show to be held in Barcelona next week.
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Nvidia is not necessarily aiming Tegra 4i at very low-end smartphones under $100, said Philip Carmack, senior vice president of its mobile business unit. The quad-core chip has fast processing capabilities and can play full high-definition video, so it is targeted at value smartphones priced under $200.
The low-cost smartphone market is growing fast, especially in developing regions like Asia-Pacific, South America and Africa, where unlocked smartphones with basic multimedia are in some cases available for under $100.
"We've built a really compact quad-core processor," Carmack said. "It's a triumph of efficiency."
Tablets with 7-inch screens are the sweet spot for Tegra 4i, Carmack said. Nvidia has provided a tablet reference platform called Kai for companies to build devices under $200, and 4i can provide consumers with more bang for the buck with integrated LTE, Carmack said.
The Tegra 4i chip is based on a modified ARM Cortex-A9 processor and runs at a clock frequency of 2.3GHz, and has a fifth core to handle low-power tasks like phone calls. The chip has an integrated software-defined modem, and can support multiple 3G and LTE technologies. The chip will support wireless connectivity standards in a majority of countries, including China.
The Cortex-A9 processor design is also used in Nvidia's old Tegra 3 chip, which is in many tablets and smartphones. But the 4i chip is an architectural improvement over Tegra 3, with a smaller, more power efficient and faster version of Cortex-A9.
"It has a brand new CPU architecture that we co-developed with ARM," Carmack said. "It's not a simple rev of A9, but a pretty heavy improvement."
ARM designs processors that are used in most of the world's smartphones, like Apple's iPhone and Samsung's Galaxy S III. Nvidia licenses processor architectures and designs from ARM, much like Apple, Nvidia, Samsung, Qualcomm, Texas Instruments and others.
Last month, Nvidia announced the Tegra 4 chip for tablets and high-end smartphones, which the company claimed was the world's fastest mobile processor. Tegra 4 is based on ARM's Cortex-A15 design, and is being used in Nvidia's Project Shield, a handheld gaming console which was also announced last month and is scheduled to ship in the second half.
Nvidia is primarily known as a graphics company, and the 4i chip enables booming multimedia, Carmack said. Users will be able to play high-definition Android video games on handsets. There are 60 graphics cores in Tegra 4i, while Tegra 3 had only 12 such cores. The Tegra 4 chip has 72 graphics cores.