When Nvidia’s mobile roadmap leaked back in January, smartphone and tablet makers were ecstatic about a powerful chip code-named Kal-El, a nod at Clark Kent’s (aka Superman) alter ego on the planet Krypton. Yesterday the graphics giant officially launched the Tegra 3 processor, mentioning in a press release Asustek’s Eee Pad Transformer Prime as the first tablet to run the quad-core chip.

First benchmark of the Asus tablet indicate a twofold jump in performance, courtesy of the new Nvidia chip. HTC is expected to debut the first smartphone with Tegra 3 chip early next year. Specs-wise, the chip is a screamer (AnandTech concurs).

It’s got four ARM Cortex A9 processing cores that reach speeds of up to 1.3GHz (1.4GHz in single-core mode). Its GeForce graphics processor has twelve cores for three times the graphics performance of Tegra 2 and supports gee-whiz features such as dynamic lighting, physical effects, high resolution environments and 3D stereo.

Despite all this oomph, power consumption is 61 percent lower: Tegra 3 can continuously render HD video for up to twelve hours on a single charge. Another interesting design feat: The chip features a fifth processing core clocked at just 500MHz which takes over whenever possible, for handling undemanding tasks.

This helps reduce batter consumption when browsing the web, checking your email, playing music and other light tasks. Nvidia will release one new Nvidia chip each year and they are already working on the fourth-generation Tegra, code-named Wayne, that should be ten times faster than Tegra 2. But how does the current Tegra 3 chip fare to rival offerings, especially to Apple’s A5 chip? More on that plus a bunch of eye-popping video tours after the break…

The ASUS Eee Pad Transformer Prime is the world’s first quad-core tablet with Tegra 3.

Nvidia claims the Tegra 3 smokes the A5 in certain tasks, including 2x video transcoding and photo stitching. Tegra 3’s closest rival is Apple’s in-house designed dual-core A5 chip, manufactured by Samsung, that powers the iPad 2 and iPhone 4S. It combines an ARM Cortex-A9 MPCore processor with NEON SIMD accelerator and a dual core PowerVR SGX543MP2 graphics unit from Imagination Technologies. The 1GHz iPad 2 version of the A5 silicon touts ninefold graphics boost over its predecessor, the single-core A4 processor of the iPhone 4 and the original iPad. The iPhone 4S’s A5 processor is clocked at 800MHz and sports seven times faster graphics versus the previous iPhone model.

However, Apple is already developing the A5’s successor, probably named the A6, which should be comparable to the Kal-El. Likely to be built by Samsung and possibly Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company on 28-nanometer processing technology and expected to power next-generation iPad 3 and iPhone 5 in 2012, little is known of the A6 chip. Rumored specifications call for a quad-core processing unit, an enhanced graphics unit and greater clock speeds.

So will Tegra 3 obsolete iPad 2’s A5 graphics? Sure. One thing to keep in mind: Tegra 3 will go mainstream in multiple tablets and smartphones in about the same time Apple’s A6 hits the scene. All told, should Apple opt for the PowerVR-branded graphics unit, A6 may not be able to provide better graphics over Tegra 3 because PowerVR uses tile-based rendering while the GeForce graphics processor inside Tegra 3 renders scenes using more sophisticated shaders.

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