Microsoft and NVIDIA currently have a rather interesting relationship. Redmond partnered with the graphic processor maker on the Surface front in order to use its Tegra chips to power the slates.
The company’s first tablet in history, the original Surface RT had was rather humdrum in terms of processing performance (and consequently the display resolution). As a result several reviewers disapproved of the lackluster processing capability provided by the Tegra 3 in the Windows RT slate.
It was, for all intents and purposes previous-generation capabilities at that time.
Part of the reason was due to the fact that NVIDIA was still refining its Tegra 4 solution when the Surface RT tablets were unveiled. Work on the new chip finished a little while after that and as expected it powers the second generation Surface slates that are currently on the market.
The Tegra 4 Situation
The increased visual fidelity meant the display was upgraded to a full HD 1080p resolution on these newer tablets. But owing to some perplexing decision making, Tegra 4 was not without its faults.
NVIDIA decided against including wireless capabilities in the Tegra 4, and instead just reserved them for the Tegra 4i, the undersized chip meant for mobile phone and phablets. This ultimately resulted in the second generation Surface slates to launch without 4G LTE capabilities.
And this is one area that Microsoft is said to be fixing right now, with the rumored Surface Mini and refreshed Surface 2 tablets that will feature wireless cellular connectivity.
Nokia, however, decided to look in the Qualcomm camp and its Snapdragon solutions for its Lumia 2520 tablet. Microsoft also reportedly entered into discussions with Qualcomm to use its chips in future Surface tablets, thanks to the built in cellular wireless.
So much so that the head of NVIDIA, Jen-Hsun Huang, gave a statement to the media that he was proud and delighted of his company’s work on the Surface tablets.
However, this is when the situation took a rather interesting turn.
Enter Tegra K1
And enter with aplomb and swagger. NVIDIA made official the Tegra K1 mobile chipset last week. This impressive solution is based on the Kepler chipset and offers an almost similar feature set to what is available on graphic cards on the PC, thanks to its 192-core GPU.
The company is positioning this new architecture for tablets and 2-in-1 devices.
Easier said than done these days, what with the increasingly competitive market. But now a new benchmark has surfaced that shows just how dominant the Tegra K1 architecture is, compared to what the competitors like Apple and Qualcomm are offering.
As the chart below reveals, the chip scores better in GFXBench than pretty much every alternative available in the market today. The reference Tegra K1 tablet offers a clear 60 fps in a 1920 by 1080 pixels benchmark — which is miles ahead of what the Tegra 4 brings with 16 fps.
The Apple iPad Air at 27 fps is out of the picture, and the best Qualcomm chip out there right now (Snapdragon 800) is also a few steps behind at 24 fps. Essentially, this is 2.5 times or higher increase.
And in fact, it even scores higher than the HD4400 iGP that Intel has integrated in Haswell processors. You know, the ones that are used in laptops, not tablets. The only solution better than the Tegra K1 is the company’s dedicated GeForce GT 740M that is again used in notebooks.
If this is what this new chip brings, then NVIDIA has what it takes to score a lot of wins, while the competitors have their work cut out for them as they prepare their answers.
What Does It Mean For The Surface 3?
Tablet buyers these days drive a hard bargain, both when it comes to pricing and performance. Surface 2 sales numbers (or estimates) are yet to arrive, but there is a general feeling that Microsoft’s new second generation tablets have fared a whole lot better than the original.
But the totally mathematical thing here are still the apps.
And there is a thing called playing to your strength. For the time being Microsoft is putting all its weight behind the Windows RT platform, and one facet of this is gaming. The company plans on developing several new games designed for its modern operating system, both the Pro and RT flavors.
There is still room for improvements, however, and this includes the massive library of titles old and new that can still be ported over to the ARM platform. The recently released Cold Alley game, for example, suffers from performance issues on the Surface 2, and the Surface Pro 2 barely cuts it.
Streamlining this with standardized toolsets, transitioning over the Xbox brand, and offering smooth 60fps full HD performance may just be what the doctor ordered for the Windows on ARM platform. AMD has also identified mobile gaming as an area of focus and is preparing a few gaming tablet.
Predictions are predictions but the Microsoft NVIDIA story may still have a few chapters left in it.