Why are game developers so excited to develop for the Tegra 2 platform? NVIDIA just released a new whitepaper titled Bringing High-End Graphics to Handheld Devices (.pdf) that details their GeForce GPU architecture, compares performance with the leading PowerVR SGX540 GPU, and explains the benefits to the end user. If you are a hard-core geek, I suggest just hitting up the source link and reading the entire 28 page report. For everyone else, I have broken down the highlights after the jump.
Ultra Low Power GeForce GPU Architecture
The Tegra 2 system-on-a-chip (SoC) features an ultra-low power (ULP) GeForce GPU with an architecture that is similar to that of desktop GeForce GPUs. NVIDIA took their years of GPU experience and designed a mobile GPU with several specific features that reduce power consumption and increase graphics quality.
The mobile GeForce GPU processing pipeline is similar to the one defined by the OpenGL 2.0 specifications, but it has several unique optimizations that enable it to deliver performance of a pipelined GPU architecture while keeping the mobile power requirements in mind.
NVIDIA included eight cores (four pixel shader cores and four vertex shader cores) in the GeForce GPU to deliver high-speed graphics processing. They also implemented a unique and proprietary Anisotropic Filtering (AF) algorithm for improved texture quality (up to 16x AF).
Overall, it appears the ULP GeForce GPU is exactly what NVIDIA has been telling us. It’s a high-end, mobile graphics processor with desktop GPU roots that delivers console-quality features and performance.
Additional special features and customizations of the ULP GeForce GPU include:
- Early-Z support to filter out non-visible pixels
- Integrated Pixel Shader and Blend Unit for programming flexibility and higher performance
- Pixel Cache, Texture cache, Vertex, and Attribute Caches to reduce memory transactions
- Unique 5x Coverage Sampling Anti-aliasing (CSAA) technique that achieves higher image quality at lower memory bandwidth
- Advanced Anisotropic Filtering (AF) for high detail textures
- A custom Memory Controller developed in-house that improves GPU performance and reduces power consumption
- Numerous Power Management features for ultra low power consumptions.
User benefits of the GeForce GPU
So how fast is the GeForce GPU? Many have claimed it was slower than the current leader PowerVR SGX540 (found in the Galaxy S), but NVIDIA’s benchmarks paint a different picture. In several game scenarios, NVIDIA has found that the GeForce GPU is 25-50% faster than the SGX540.
That performance gap might continue to grow because NVIDIA claims that current mobile games “do not employ many advanced graphics features, and the performance advantages of NVIDIA Tegra 2 will further increase when advanced graphics features are implemented.”
We will be receiving a LG Optimus 2X later this week, so check back to see how our results match up with what NVIDIA is advertising. From my personal experiences at CES this month, I noticed that games on the Atrix 4G certainly felt and played a lot smoother than anything I’ve seen on a Galaxy S.
Hardware accelerated Adobe Flash is another area where the GeForce GPU should shine. NVIDIA worked closely with Adobe to offload the Flash processing from the CPU core and do nearly all the rendering on the GPU core. This reduces the amount of power consumed and greatly increases the overall performance because the CPU is freed up to handle other tasks.
In the popular Flash benchmark GUIMark2, NVIDIA found that hardware accelerated Flash improved performance 2x to 3x over competing devices that use the CPU to process Flash content.
NVIDIA also says that the Tegra 2 is well equipped to handle hardware accelerated, touch-based user interfaces when the Android OS adopts GPU-based UI rendering.
Finally, NVIDIA is also boasting that they have the industry’s largest content development team that works closely with developers to optimize their games for the best performance and visual quality on their Tegra 2 platform. This means that their showcase app Tegra Zone really will have the best games because NVIDIA worked directly with the developers to increase the quality of their games.
Featured developers that have committed to support Tegra 2 include several big names like Electronic Arts, Epic Games, Gameloft, Glu, Factor 5, Trendy Entertainment, and many more.
If you are a real nerd, it’s great to see a company release this kind of detailed information about their GPU architecture. I hope that Qualcomm and Texas Instruments are taking notes and do the same.
There is no way of knowing how the GeForce GPU will stack up against the GPUs inside other dual-core processors, but it appears to clearly surpass the current leader PowerVR SGX540 which is a good sign.
As I said yesterday, I don’t really think it matters who comes out on top of the benchmarks in this first round of the dual-core wars. What really matters is the premium content optimized to take advantage of these new platforms and NVIDIA has taken the early lead.