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The ASUS Eee Pad Transformer Prime—let’s call it the Transformer Prime, for short—can now be pre-ordered online, report several sources. It may not be the most eagerly awaited gadget of all time, and it may not be the most elegantly named, but it marks a new era: the Transformer Prime is the first tablet that comes with a quad-core processor built in.

For the spec-hungry: The tablet ships with the Android 3.2 Honeycomb operating system, though it can be upgraded to Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4.0). It has a 10.1-inch screen, in 1280 x 800 resolution, protected by Gorilla Glass. RAM’s one GB, and the device packs two cameras, an eight-megapixel affair in the rear, a 1.2-megapixel affair in the front. A fully charged battery should get you 12 hours, and the whole thing will set you back either $500 or $600, depending on whether you want 32 GB or 64 GB of flash storage.

But again, the main event here is the processor: the Tegra 3 quad-core CPU, heretofore only available in desktops and the occasional high-end laptop. The chip, codenamed Kal-El, debuted in February. Per the Verge, Tegra 3 supposedly quintuples the performance of Tegra 2. By juggling processing demands among its four cores, as well as a fifth “companion core,” the device can handle heavy-duty assignments while still keeping a reasonable battery life. It’s mostly been hailed for the fantastic graphical renderings it enables, and the possibilities this brings for gaming. Here’s a prime example:

Jordan Crook over at TechCrunch cautions that we not get too too excited over quad-core. Crook offers some information that would seem to run against the Verge’s claim that Kal-El quintuples the abilities of Tegra 2. “According to Qualcomm vice president of product management Alex Katouzian, upgrading from a single-core CPU to a dual-core processor yields 50 percent better performance, while upgrading from dual-core to quad-core increases performance by just 25 percent,” writes Crook. “Performance,” of course, is a loose term and can be measured variably; it’s probably best to under-promise and over-deliver, though, so do take Katouzian’s warning to heart.

Crook’s post is a good summary of why the quad-core era is nonetheless worth celebrating. Quad-core processing should greatly improve web browsing, and multi-tasking more generally. Battery life should improve overall, because of the core-juggling feats mentioned above—albeit not dramatically. Nvidia has taken the lead in quad-core processing; Qualcomm will be close behind, while Texas Instruments is taking a while longer, maintaining that its dual-core Cortex A15 processor is actually better in some respects, handling instructions more efficiently, for instance.

In any event, expect “quad-core” to become the new buzzword, something practically mandatory in all those fireball- and lightning-laden advertisements. Acer and Lenovo are reportedly among the many manufacturers aiming to launch quad-core tablets in the first quarter of 2012.

It remains to be seen whether the devices will live up to the hype. They surely show promise. I leave you with a video comparing Tegra 3 performance against unnamed “competition.”

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