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ZTE emerges as Nvidia's lead handset client

Even without integrated platform,Tegra will power ZTE handsets, but Qualcomm launches more Snapdragon models


Published: 21 February, 2013

READ MORE: ZTE | nVidia | Processor | Handset

Earlier this week, Nvidia announced its first all-in-one handset chip, the Tegra 4i, which will integrate its Tegra 4 processor and i500 modem. The firm had said it would not expect to make much smartphone impact before that product was in commercial devices, later this year, but it has signed up a handset customer nonetheless, expanding its relationship with ZTE.

The Chinese firm says it will launch a line of smartphones running on the quad-core Tegra 4 before midyear, with one also including the i500 software defined modem (which can be programmed over the air to support 2G, 3G and 4G technologies). It is then expected to adopt Tegra 4i too to help it push into midrange 4G device sectors. The combined baseband/processor architectures reduce cost, power consumption and board space considerably, essential as LTE moves to midrange and even entry level devices.

The ZTE win is important for Nvidia. The Chinese firm is hovering around the top three in handset rankings and is sure to be a power player in affordable 4G smartphones, which play to its strengths in emerging markets. It also shows that, despite Huang's caution, the standalone Tegra 4 can make it into handsets, even though it has mainly succeeded in tablets, as can the i500. ZTE was the first major OEM to introduce both Tegra and Nvidia's i500 modem into one design and it will now build a whole range on that combination. It already offers the Grand Era U985, based on Tegra 3.

The Tegra 4 runs on the latest ARM Cortex processor, the A15, and supports the big.Little architecture, with a fifth low power core to take on basic tasks and extend battery life. The chip also has 72 graphics cores, six times as many as its predecessor.

Meanwhile, the firm Nvidia has to chase, Qualcomm, has announced its own new chips. It has added two new processors to its Snapdragon range, targeting entry level and midrange smartphones. The Snapdragon 200 and 400, which will appear in commercial products later this year, join the high end 600 and 800 models, unveiled in January.

The 200 is the entry level product, though it still features four cores, indicating how mainstream that technology has become. Only a year ago Qualcomm remained cautious about quad-core in handsets, arguing that it was more important to optimize dual-core platforms for greater performance and power efficiency first. However, it went the quad-core route later in the year with the new Snapdragon line-up and is now extending the technology downwards.

The 200 has four ARM Cortex A5 cores running at up to 1.4GHz each, an Adreno 203 GPU, and support for HD video playback, dual SIM cards, and up to 8-megapixels in the camera. The midrange 400 comes in two flavors - one with two cores of up to 1.7GHz each and one with four cores of up to 1.4GHz. The 400 also includes the Adreno 305 GPU and 1080p HD video playback and capture and supports Miracast and up to 13.5-megapixel cameras. Both promise better battery life than their predecessors and integration with Qualcomm's modems.

Qualcomm also saw the Snapdragon 600 appearing in two new handsets this week, the HTC One and the LG Optimus G Pro.

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