With the release of the MiPad from Xiaomi and the company's own Shield Tablet, Nvidia appears to have carved out a niche in mobile gaming using its Tegra K1 SoC (system-on-chip) and Google's Android operating system.
Unlike many of the other high-end mobile SoCs on the market, the Tegra K1 stayed with four primary CPU cores plus one core optimized for power, while others charged ahead to eight cores. Tegra K1 got a new revision of the ARM Cortex-A15 CPU, but the company's primary focus was investing the silicon real estate in 192 Kepler-generation GPU cores.
The chip uses the same cores in Nvidia's consumer and professional graphics products that support its CUDA GPU-computing language. In addition, the Kepler GPU cores support the OpenGL graphics API found on PCs and workstations, rather than just the mobile graphics APIs supported by other mobile SoCs.
The difference in performance was evident in the benchmarks, with the MiPad trouncing the best-selling tablet, the Apple iPad. The MiPad also fares well in a head-to-head comparison with the leading Android tablet, the Samsung Galaxy TabPro, using the Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 running at the same 2.2 GHz clock frequency.
The AndEBench benchmark, specifically designed for Android platforms, provides multiple points of comparison (see charts below). While the Tegra K1 does not win in all the benchmark categories, particularly the memory tests, it does very well in the multimedia-centric scores, and this translated to a high device and platform score.
AndEBench shows Nvidia's Tegra K1 lagging in memory bandwidth and latency but well ahead on other and overall scores.
Nvidia's Shield Tablet, announced July 21, will feature the same Tegra K1 used in the MiPad, operating at the same frequency, which should translate into similar benchmark results. In addition, Nvidia is working with game developers to improve the gaming experience, 11 of whom will release titles with the Shield tablet.
The Shield Tablet shares many of the same features of the Shield portable game console, such as support for game streaming and the ability to be used as a console. The Shield tablet sports an eight-inch display, build-in stylus, dual speakers, support for 4K video, and an optimal wireless game controller that also supports high-fidelity audio headsets.
Despite the impressive benchmarks, many reviewers, such as EuroGamer, noted limitations that appear to be due to the game titles and the Android OS. This is sure to change as products like the MiPad and Shield Tablet propel the Android OS from a casual gaming experience to a true gaming platform comparable to a PC or console. Now that a graphics chip compatible with OpenGL and more comparable to the other advanced gaming platforms is available, this transition can begin.
We expect tablet OEMs will seek to differentiate by focusing on specific form factors and applications that provide a unique user experience. That will require SoCs that cater to those unique requirements. While the current Tegra K1 is a 32-bit ARM SoC, there's a 64-bit Tegra K1 scheduled for late-2014 to support 64-bit Android L.
— Jim McGregor is Principal Analyst at Tirias Research.