NVIDIA Tegra fights Intel Atom and Snapdragon

Get ready for a crash course in net-capable consumer electronics devices, we will be looking at two new architectures that promises to give stiff competition to Intel’s Atom microprocessor and it’s only going to get confusing if you don’t pay attention.

Things started off with Intel releasing their Atom processor aimed at low-priced low-power netbooks or devices that resemble notebooks but are only capable of doing basic mundane stuff like surfing the net, email and occasionally viewing video. Their entry is no doubt influenced by the success of products such as the EeePC and for awhile, they are the only ones providing the mass-market processors and appeared in most every netbooks produced so far.

Eee PC

Things are about to change with NVIDIA’sION platform, which aims to combine Atom processor with their powerful GeForce GPU to create netbooks that are capable of doing much more multimedia intensive tasks such as watching HD video and even some medium-level gaming.

Watch HD video and medium-level gaming on netbooks

Intel’s Atom platform uses the aging 945 chipset with onboard graphics that absolutely suck, but so far consumer have no choice but to put up. The ION led to some hostility between NVIDIA and Intel, involving the use of questionable statistics and outright lies.

Nvidia Tegra and Snapdragon

Regardless, two new competitors will be dropping into this convoluted mess and they are Tegra and Snapdragon. Both Tegra and Snapdragon are platforms based off ARM processors. ARM have been making ultra low power microprocessors for all sorts of devices such as digital cameras, watches, mouse and most of the popular MP3 players out there including the iPhone. However they have very successfully stayed behind the scenes, even though their processors can be found in almost every modern device except the computer. Well, that may no longer be true as they are about to bring pool together their resources to create the company’s first lineup of ARM microprocessors that aim to capture a share of the netbook and budget portable computer market.


The Tegra, also by NVIDIA, will mate together the older and less powerful ARM11 microsprocessor with their custom GeForce GPU subsystem, much like the ION. The GPU will be responsible for most of the rendering and post processing efforts as the ARM11 is rather toothless. However the marriage proved to be quite powerful with the Tegra 600 being capable of decoding 720p HD video with ease while the Tegra 650 can do 1080p. The Tegra was originally intended to be released for mobile devices, but so far the only product prototypes are of netbooks. If they are capable of bringing it to the mobile platform as originally intended, then things will certainly get more interesting. As of now, the Tegra is facing a question of whether its bringing anything new to the table since netbooks are the domain of the ION, another NVIDIA product.

ARM cpu

With Snapdragon, developed by Qualcomm, is based off the Cortex processors from ARM, which is the aforementioned family of ARM processors created to target the netbook market. They are vastly superior to the ARM11 and has all the fancy HD decoding, GPS and WiFi capabilities wrapped tightly together into one nice little bundle. The ease of packaging the platform into a consumer electronics device will certainly make SnapDragon very friendly to netbook and even mobile internet device manufacturers. It was shown at CES 2009 powering an EeePC running on Android.

And there you have it, a little insight into the architectures that will be powering the next modern netbooks and portable media devices.