What Is Nvidia's Tegra 2?

It's everywhere. CES, which hasn't even officially started yet, has already given birth to more Tegra 2 phones and tablets than I care to count. So, again, what's so special about this thing again?

It's a system on a chip...

A system on a chip combines a CPU, GPU (graphics processor) and various interconnecting bits and bobs into a single product. It's the kind of thing a company can buy and construct an entire product around, in a similar way to how a PC buyer might buy a barebones PC and build it out. The Tegra 2 is far from the first SOC, but for mobile hardware, it's easily one of the most powerful.

...not unlike the hardware inside your new smartphone...

Despite Nvidia being primarily known as a graphics company, the heart of the Tegra 2 - or any SOC, for that matter - is its CPU. In the case of the Tegra 2, this is an ARM Cortex A9 core, clocked at around 1GHz. In other words, in terms of raw processing power, the Tegra 2 is basically inline with the chips found in the various 1GHz phones released over the past year - a bit more powerful in theory, on account of using newer architecture.

The Tegra 2's secret sauce is its graphic processor, an Nvidia-designed, ultra-low-power GeForce core. This promises 3D gaming performance without a huge battery drain and accelerated HD video decoding with a low CPU draw.

...that was announced over a year ago...

I wrote a post sort of like this a while back. Actually, let me check - right, OK, it was in 2009. When the Tegra 2 was announced in 2010, it arrived into a strange climate: The original Tegra hadn't really taken off, and people were still using terms like "smartbook" and "MID" unironically. I said at the time:

Whatever happened to the Tegra, Nvidia doesn't want it to happen again. This time, they say, will be different.

And I guess it has been different, sort of? A few high profile products have used the Tegra 2 in the last year, from the Boxee Box to Audi's newest in-dash computers.

There were promises of Tegra 2 tablets and even phones last year, but they haven't really started to materialise until now.

...but which is showing up in tons of impressive smartphones and tablets this year.

In the year since its announcement, the Tegra 2 seems to have found its feet, featuring in new smartphones and tablets from Toshiba, LG, Motorola and plenty more.

It also seems to have grown an extra core. The LG Optimus Black claims a dual-core Tegra processor, which could conceivably improve everything from multitasking to battery life, assuming Android and its apps support it well. Even in a single-core configuration, though, the Tegra 2 offers plenty of advantages for a tablet or phone: fairly low power consumption, even during HD video decoding; fast graphics performance; and generally high speed.

Nvidia has a Tegra 2 announcement scheduled for a bit later today, so we'll see what else they come up with.