Nvidia is full of surprises. Just weeks after it introduced Project Shield, a Tegra 4 based handheld gaming console, the chipmaker also rolled out the Tegra 4i, as well as its first smartphone reference design. However, the aggressive rollouts can also be viewed as a sign of weakness - and here's why.
Tegra 4 is late. The original chip was flawed and Nvidia was forced to go for another respin. This resulted in a lengthy delay and the first Tegra 4 products should appear in late Q2, almost two quarters behind schedule. Project Shield is widely viewed as a gimmick, a technology demonstrator which is not supposed to have much of an impact on the market.
All this apparently forced Nvidia to revise its Tegra roadmap, so the company brought the Grey (Tegra 4i) launch forward by a few months. In spite of similar branding, the Tegra 4i has very little in common with Tegra 4, codenamed Wayne. Tegra 4i is based on ARM's Cortex A9 cores, while Tegra 4 is based on the all new A15 core. Tegra 4i also has LTE, a feature lacking in Tegra 4. Both chips are stamped out using TSMC's 28nm process and Tegra 4i is significantly smaller, which also means it should end up quite a bit cheaper than its sibling, or distant cousin.
Although Tegra 4i uses an older architecture, it could still be a very interesting mobile SoC. Nvidia says the chip is clocked at 2.3GHz, significantly faster than the Tegra 3, which tops out at 1.7GHz. It also has LTE, and it is built using a more advanced node, so it should be more power efficient than the Tegra 3, too.
This time around Nvidia won't have to rely on design wins to sell Tegra 4i chips. The company came up with a reference phone design of its own and, actually, it looks rather nice. It's called the Phoenix, which might be fitting given Nvidia's Tegra 4 woes, and it ticks all the right boxes. It has a 5-inch 1080p screen, as well as a 13-megapixel camera backed by Nvidia's proprietary imaging technology. The design is understated and it's 8mm thick, so it looks rather sleek.
(Image from SlashGear)
If this is Nvidia's idea of damage control, we must admit the company really made the best of it.
On the other hand, some rather important questions persist. We still don't know when Tegra 4i devices, including the Phoenix, will actually start shipping. It is another Tegra paper launch and although the product looks very good indeed, Nvidia does not have plenty of time on its hands.
Good execution is a must and since this is Nvidia's first phone design, it will probably face plenty of challenges ahead.