Yesterday, Nvidia’s Shield handheld game console was finally released to the public — and today, it has been torn down and benchmarked, revealing impressive performance figures for the Tegra 4′s first outing. The first batch of Shield reviews were generally negative, citing a high price and limited games library, but they did all agree on one positive point: The crippling lack of functionality aside, the hardware itself is seriously impressive.
The Android-powered Shield comes with a quad-core Tegra 4 SoC (four Cortex-A15 cores, plus a fifth low-power Cortex-A15 “companion core” that performs background tasks), a 72-core GPU, 5-inch 1280×720 display, 16GB of storage, and 2GB of RAM. There’s also a couple of speakers that reviewers are generally very complimentary about, and the usual WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity. Benchmark-wise, Tegra 4 is the currently the fastest Android device on the market, beating out Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 800 — though the iPad 4′s GPU still beats the Tegra 4 GPU in some tests.
Due to its much larger form factor, though, it doesn’t really make sense to compare the Shield’s performance to smartphones and tablets. Where the Shield has a 28.8 watt-hours battery — and a fan! — to keep the power-hungry Cortex-A15 cores fed, a smartphone battery might only have a capacity of 6 watt-hours. It’s very rare for ARM-powered smartphones and tablets to have a fan, too. As a result, the Shield can run its CPU and GPU at much higher clock speeds — and thus post some impressive benchmark scores.
The teardown, of course, is courtesy of iFixit. Inside the Shield (which is around the same size as an Xbox 360 gamepad but twice as heavy), there is a main logic board, three huge batteries, another board that manages all of the gamepad inputs, and the screen. There aren’t really any surprises here; it’s basically just a high-powered portable gaming machine. The Tegra 4 SoC (28nm) is around the same size as the Tegra 3 (40nm), with the extra space granted by the die shrink being gobbled up by the larger CPUs and GPU. It is amusing to see a fan, though; those Cortex-A15 cores must really be drawing a significant amount of power. The motherboard also provides the micro SD, mini HDMI, micro USB, and 3.5mm headphone connectors.
Overall, iFixit gives the Shield a repairability score of 6 out of 10, losing points due to a tricky-to-replace battery and display.
While the hardware is impressive, then, it’s a shame that the device as a whole leaves much to be desired. The fact that there are very few good games for the Shield, coupled with its exorbitant price point ($ 300), makes it very hard to recommend the Shield as a handheld gaming machine. Game streaming from your PC to the Shield is an exciting prospect, but it only works on your local network; the PS4, which costs just $ 100 more, will be able to stream games across the internet with Remote Play. You could possibly make the argument that the Shield makes for a high-powered smartphone or tablet replacement, but the fact that it doesn’t contain a cellular modem, is cumbersome to hold in one hand, and doesn’t fit in your pocket precludes this.
The bigger question, of course, is whether we’ll actually see the Tegra 4 SoC in more than a handful of devices. Its performance can obviously competitive in the right setting — but if it needs a huge battery and a fan, then it’s easy to see why smartphone and tablet makers have almost universally opted for Qualcomm SoCs with its Krait CPU cores, rather than the SoCs based on the Cortex-A15 CPU.