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Summary:

Nvidia has launched its first integrated smartphone chip that combines its GPU-based application processor and a modem. The new chip will give Nvidia a processor to compete against Qualcomm’s integrated chips.

Phoenix Reference Phone_int
photo: Nvidia

Nvidia has launched an integrated smartphone chip designed for mainstream smartphones in a bid to take on Qualcomm’s processor dominance in mobile handsets. The Tegra 4i is part of what will now be a family of Tegra 4 smartphone chips, with the 4 aimed at high-end phones and tablets and the 4i aimed at phones in the $100 to $200 range.

The Tegra 4i could support delivery of 1080p video playback on a 5-inch screen, according to the reference design Nvidia showed off with the launch (see above). The Nvidia spokesman expects features like the HD playback to become mainstream by the time these chips hit the market at the end of 2013.

Nvidia, which entered the smartphone market in 2008 with its Tegra application processor that combined its graphics processors with an ARM-based core, has high hopes for the mobile market. But its first iterations were hampered by a lack of integrated modem on the chips like Qualcomm offered. An integrated modem lowers the number of parts inside the phone as well as the overall cost.

In 2011 Nvidia purchased Icera, which makes a software defined radio that will tune into a variety of frequencies. The Tegra 4i is its first chip that integrates the Icera chip on the same die as the Tegra application processor. Thus, the chip with support LTE as well as versions of HSPA in use by U.S. carriers like AT&T and T-Mobile.

The integration will deliver a smaller chip (made at the 28 nanometer process node) that will presumably consume less power. However, in a conference call ahead of the launch, Nvidia’s spokesman didn’t have specifics on the processor’s affect on battery life — a criticism that has dogged the Nvidia chips in the past.

From a spec side, the 4i will deliver up to 2.3 GHz and compares with Qualcomm’s chips using its Krait processor. The chip uses the ARM Cortex-A9 as opposed to the ARM A15 chip the Tegra 4 will use, and it has 60 CPU cores. While not designed for tablets, it’s conceivable that the smaller, cheaper tablets might well use the Tegra 4i design according to the Nvidia spokesman.

As we head into the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona we’re likely to see several chip and handset design announcements as well as a peek into the smartphones we’ll be using next year.

This story was corrected at 11 a.m. on Feb. 19 to reflect that Nvidia purchased Icera in 2011 not in 2009.

  1. Small edits, hopefully helpful:
    Thus, the chip will [with] support LTE…
    …processor’s effect [affect] on battery…

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