Everyone in the industry was aware that NVIDIA was working on a quad-core processor, but I doubt that any expected them to demo their next-generation Tegra at Mobile World Congress. Tonight in front of a small audience of bloggers, NVIDIA showed off the world´s first mobile quad-core CPU and revealed it would arrive in Android devices this August.
Before we dive into the details of the this chip, I wanted to point out how NVIDIA chose to reveal this information to the world. Instead of paper-launching their next-generation CPU and saying it would arrive in 2012 (like Qualcomm and Texas Instruments did just days ago), NVIDIA skipped the press release entirely and delivered a working tablet along with several jaw-dropping software demos.
The Tegra roadmap revealed
The presentation started with NVIDIA announcing their Tegra roadmap through 2014. Sticking with earlier statements, NVIDIA will maintain their yearly cadence by release a new Tegra every year.
The Tegra 2 has often been referred to as a super-chip, so NVIDIA went with super-hero names for their upcoming mobile chips. Project Kal-El (assumed to become Tegra 3) will arrive in 2011 and deliver 5x the performance of Tegra 2, followed by Wayne in 2012, Logan in 2013, and Stark in 2014.
As ridiculous as this sounds, Project Stark (Tegra 6?) is expected to deliver 100x the performance of Tegra 2 in just three years from now.
To demonstrate the power of their quad-core CPU, NVIDIA started with an Android tablet decoding 1440p video to an extreme HD monitor (2560 × 1600 panel). It looked simply amazing. We were later told the source video was shot with a Red digital camera and then downscaled to 1440p for the demonstration.
Next we saw a series of game demos that compared the current Tegra 2 with the upcoming Project Kal-El. We were asked not to reveal the details of several games, but we did witness about a 3x performance increase in graphics performance. Advanced games that could barely crack 20 frames per second on Tegra 2 were running at a silky smooth 60 fps on Kal-El.
One game demo we can talk about is History Channel Great Battles: Medieval from War Drums Studios. This game was released for PC, Xbox 360, and PS3 last year and it was currently being ported to Honeycomb tablets. Thomas Williamson, lead developer and CEO, had less than 24 hours to get the demo running on the quad-core Kal-El, but he was able to pull it off since NVIDIA´s new platform uses a similar GeForce GPU architecture.
Next we saw some benchmarks like CoreMark, which showed Kal-El (score of 11,354) out performing Intel´s 2 GHz Core2Duo T7200 (score of 10,136). NVIDIA said this silicon was only 12 days old, so we can only expect that performance will continue to improve as they optimize the platform.
Highlights of Project Kal-El include:
- World´s first mobile quad-core CPU
- New 12-core NVIDIA GPU, with support for 3D stereo
- Extreme HD – 2560 x 1600
- 5x Tegra 2
Overall, I was extremely impressed with that NVIDIA showed. I have the whole thing captured on video, but there is no way that will be going up tonight on my hotel´s WiFi connection.
Update: Here is a video of some of the demos courtesy of Will Park from IntoMobile.
The most shocking part of the event came when NVIDIA shared the availability for Kal-El. The chips are sampling now and we should see them in tablets by August and smartphones will arrive by Christmas (confirming an earlier prediction of mine).
Michael Rayfield, General Manager of Mobile of NVIDIA´s mobile business unit, hinted at this when we previously spoke with him at CES saying, ”It will be pretty quick. I believe I will have my next generation Tegra in production probably before my competitors have their dual-core in production. And so that talks a lot about velocity.”
NVIDIA´s aggressive release schedule is still shocking because the other semiconductor companies are not expected to have comparable chips until the second half of 2012.
Imagine the possibilities
If you thought the Atrix 4G was an innovative product, just wait till you see what the mobile device manufactures dream up for Kal-El.
I´ll go out on a limb and predict that Google will select Tegra 3 as the lead platform for the next major Android release (Jelly bean?) and slap it in their Nexus 3 this Christmas. Maybe my dream handset with Android, Chrome OS, and Google TV on a single device will actually become a reality.
This is such huge breaking news that I am still trying to comprehend how it will change the mobile industry. I´m hitting publish now, but I will continue to update this post throughout the night.
For more coverage of Kal-El check out:
We would love to hear what you think in the mean time.