Silicon Valley chipmaker Nvidia officially took the wraps off of their next-generation mobile processors tonight. Originally announced back in February, the Tegra 3 processor – aka “Project Kal-El” – actually sports five cores, including a fifth “companion core” for low-power applications. Nvidia claims Tegra 3 will offer up to three times the graphic performance of current Tegra 2 dual-core processors with “up to 61 percent lower power consumption.” In lay terms, that means, “An industry-leading 12 hours of battery life for HD video playback,” according to company PR.

The first consumer device to ship with Tegra 3 inside will be the Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime tablet, a device shown off by Asus Chairman Jonney Shih a few weeks ago at the AsiaD conference. Transformer Prime also launched today, and will ship in time for the holiday season with a price point beginning at $499 MSRP in the United States. Meantime, leaked reports from earlier this week peg the HTC Edge as the first quad-core phone; if true, I’d expect an HTC/Nvidia coming out party at (or around) CES in January.

The obvious question here is, “Why quad-core? Why four – if not five – cores in my mobile device? What does this do for me?” The obvious answer is, of course, that four cores is two more than two. Duh. But let’s turn to the press release, anyway, for some specifics regarding what Tegra 3 can do for you. According to Nvidia:

  • Tegra 3’s new 12-core GeForce GPU delivers more realism with dynamic lighting, physical effects and high resolution environments, plus support for 3D stereo
  • Tegra 3 provides the “fastest web experience … applications … multitasking … [and] fastest, highest-quality gaming”

Tegra 3 features:

  • the world’s first quad-core ARM Cortex A9 CPU
  • New patent-pending vSMP technology, including a fifth CPU core that runsat a lower frequency and operates at exceptionally low power
  • 12-core GeForce GPU, with 3x the graphics performance of the Tegra 2 processor, including support for stereoscopic 3D
  • New video engines with support for 1080p high profile video at 40 Mbps
  • Up to 3x higher memory bandwidth o Up to 2x faster Image Signal Processor

Taking Nvidia’s press materials at face value, this should be high performance stuff. Based on the demos I saw way back when at MWC in February, this really is high performance stuff. But will it actually make a difference in your mobile computing life? Remains to be seen, and depends on what you need, but Asus CEO Jerry Shen is pretty stoked on what Tegra 3 can do:

Tegra 3 is a marvel. Its quad-core CPU, 12-core GeForce GPU and vSMP technology are revolutionary. We worked closely with NVIDIA to build the ultimate tablet – the Eee Pad Transformer Prime – that delivers a magical, uncompromised experience to consumers.

As is Nvidia chief Jen-Hsun Huang:

The Eee Pad Transformer Prime is a category-defining product. Powered by Tegra 3, it launches us into a new era of mobile computing, in which quad-core performance and super energy-efficiency provide capabilities never available before. With Transformer Prime, ASUS has once again led the industry into the next generation.

Tegra 3 processors are currently in production and developer kits are available via Nvidia’s developer site. Meantime, you can keep tabs on the latest T3-optimized apps and games with the Tegra Zone app. Quad-core (five cores, really) in mobile devices. Who’da thunk it? Buffalos, are you psyched for your four-cores-in-your-pocket future, or have you been getting along just fine with a mere two (or even one) cores? What’s your early take on Tegra 3?