Say hello to NVIDIA Tegra 3, the quad-core processor previously codenamed Kal-El. Following up the Tegra 2 processor that powered practically every Android Honeycomb tablet announced in 2011, Tegra 3 is a major bump in NVIDIA’s plan for mobile computing and graphic processing.

“Tegra 3 is 5x the performance as Tegra 2,” said Matthew Wuebbling, NVIDIA director of Product Marketing. In a pre-briefing I participated on Monday, Wuebbling added. “It also has 3x the graphics performance. Tegra 2 was a leader in mobile graphics, and We’re really upping the GPU in Tegra 3.”

NVIDIA paints Tegra 3 as the new benchmark of mobile computing, claiming this is a PC-class CPU. Tegra 3 comes with four CPU cores that can be active to handle workload for graphic-intesive, high-level multimedia activity, but it can turn off the other cores in order to conserve energy. There’s also a “companion core” that is even less power-intensive and can be used while other cores are inactive.

For instance, only 2 CPU cores at 0-1.3 GHz can be active for Flash content, but the companion core running at 500 MHz can be used to watch a locally-stored 1080p video. There are use cases where Tegra 3 knows to activate or deactivate cores, allowing to consumers to provide a balance of optimal performance and efficient battery life.

“There’s usually a tradeoff” Wuebbling said of battery and performance management. “There’s a 1.5 GHz product [from a competitor] that has a little bit higher on the performance side but has very low power. It’s a very tricky problem.” NVIDIA believes it has struck the right balance using its multi-core architecture, which offers up to 12 hours of continous video playback.

Gaming is another area in which Tegra 3 gets a boost.The 12x GeForce GPU aspect of Tegra 3 enables more realistic dynamic lighting, physical effects, and resolutions. You may remember this tidbit from a previous article and demo video we posted previously. It will suppot PS3, Xbox 360, Wii controllers and more. It will also support 3D stereoscopic support, automatically converting 2D WebGL games to 3D.

Tegra 2 games will be backwards compatible and actually be much better on Tegra 3. However, users will be excited to know that there are already 15 games in development that specifically target Tegra 3 and the hardware/software optimizations available.

The most important feature you probably won’t hear much about Tegra 3 is that it does not require developer optimization for the power-saving aspect. Taking advantage of all that Tegra 2 had to offer required app and game developers to actively build their device towards the processor. In the case of Tegra 3, which intelligently manages the 4 CPU cores and single companion cores, Android will be able to run apps efficiently for the performance and battery trade-offs.

The Asus Transformer Prime will be the first device to run Tegra 3. NVIDIA was shy about sharing how many devices to expect Tegra 3 on in 2012, but if the success of Tegra 2 is repeated, we’d guess quite a few. Here are a couple of videos showing off Tegra 3′s juice. Visit NVIDIA for more info.

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