NVIDIA Tegra Note Program

NVIDIA and EVGA are teaming up to release the Tegra Note 7 tablet in the US for just $199 feature the Tegra 4 SoC. Does it compete?

Clearly, NVIDIA’s Tegra line has not been as successful as the company had hoped and expected.  The move for the discrete GPU giant into the highly competitive world of the tablet and phone SoCs has been slower than expected, and littered with roadblocks that were either unexpected or that NVIDIA thought would be much easier to overcome. 

The truth is that this was always a long play for the company; success was never going to be overnight and anyone that thought that was likely or possible was deluded.  Part of it has to do with the development cycle of the ARM ecosystem.  NVIDIA is used to a rather quick development, production, marketing and sales pattern thanks to its time in high performance GPUs, but the SoC world is quite different.  By the time a device based on a Tegra chip is found in the retail channel it had to go through an OEM development cycle, NVIDIA SoC development cycle and even an ARM Cortex CPU development cycle.  The result is an extended time frame from initial product announcement to retail availability.

Partly due to this, and partly due to limited design wins in the mobile markets, NVIDIA has started to develop internal-designed end-user devices that utilize its Tegra SoC processors.  This has the benefit of being much faster to market – while most SoC vendors develop reference platforms during the normal course of business,  NVIDIA is essentially going to perfect and productize them.

The first entry in this pattern was the very specialized NVIDIA SHIELD device.  Sold as part Android gaming device, part PC streaming device, and part multimedia tablet, SHIELD was one of the first products to integrate the Tegra 4 processor.  I reviewed the unit and continue to use one around the offices here at PC Perspective. SHIELD is an incredibly unique device that is high quality and high performance, but struggles to find a precise target market.  Android gamers are likely to already have a device with them, and PC gamers still want to stick with large screen experience at their desk rather than the 5-in option on SHIELD.  Recent feature additions like console mode are trying to tweak things to find the perfect mix, but clearly there is still work to do on SHIELD.

Announced earlier this year, the Tegra Note program takes the idea of direct integration another step forward.  This time NVIDIA is building out a tablet platform in its entirety, the SoC, the screen, features, etc. and partnering with companies in each product section to bring them to market and support them.  In the US that company is EVGA, which frequent PC Perspective readers will immediately know from its legacy in graphics cards.  In a rather surprising move, EVGA will be carrying the NVIDIA Tegra Note devices starting with the Tegra Note 7 launching today.

NVIDIA has a complicated relationship with its partners, and when SHIELD launched at CES 2013, we immediatly got feedback from them. The  same companies that had supported NVIDIA in the past, good times and bad, were miffed that NVIDIA had chosen a direct-to-consumer model for this new gaming device.  Even though EVGA has little experience supporting multimedia type devices like the Tegra Note 7, NVIDIA would rather offer the opportunity for partners to share in the profit (while handling support).  It doesn’t hurt that vendors like OEMs can then start to diversify product portfolios should the discrete market slide backwards.  There is no shortage of reasons for this kind of partnership to take place.

The Tegra Note 7 is the first in what will likely be a series of NVIDIA built tablets and products based on the Tegra line of processors.  Starting with a 7-in tablet, powered by the Tegra 4 SoC, and adding fantastic front facing speakers and a high quality passive stylus configuration, the Tegra Note 7 is great option for $199.

Continue reading for our look at the hardware, comparisons to the Google Nexus 7 and of course benchmarks and impressions!

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