Nvidia Kal-El: Quad-core coming to a mobile near you

If there are to be two words to describe this year's Mobile World Congress, for many, those words will be Kal-El.

For those of you well-versed in the worlds and mythology of DC Comics, Kal-El will ring a few bells, as Clark Kent's Kryptonian name. Nvidia is likely hoping its new mobile System-on-a-Chip (SoC) will be to the mobile space what its namesake is to the comic world.

While dual-core is just hitting the mainstream market for mobile devices - Nvidia's own Tegra 2 SoC will power Google's flagship Honeycomb-based Motorola Xoom tablet - the chip-maker appears determined to keep well ahead of the curve, starting with Project Kal-El, billed as the world's first quad-core mobile CPU.

Kal-El, expected to be renamed Tegra 3 when it hits tablets and mobile phones later this year, first popped into the spotlight last month, when tech blog Bright Side of News got its hands on a leaked roadmap for the Tegra family. At the time a jump to quad-core, so soon after the move to dual-core, seemed more than a little far-fetched. Yet less than a month later Nvidia mobile business unit senior VP Phil Carmack has hit the stage in Barcelona to confirm that quad-core-powered devices will be in our hands by August - and that's just the beginning.

In a blog post, Nvidia's mobile business unit manager Michael Rayfield said the first engineering sample of the next-generation Tegra SoC only arrived just 12 days ago. Yesterday, the little chip that could was running Android, showing off its gaming prowess with a 12-core GeForce GPU and pumping out 1440p video content to a 2560×1600 panel and a 1366 x 768 tablet display. Nvidia claims Kal-El is capable of roughly five times the performance of the Tegra 2 SoC, and in a Coremark benchmark the fresh silicon breezed past a Core 2 Duo notebook processor. That kind of power, Mr Rayfield explained, will allow ''retina display'' type clarity in a tablet form factor.

If you're worried that having four CPU cores and 12 GPU cores powering away will have you heading for the nearest power outlet in mere minutes, you apparently need not fret. Nvidia has told AnandTech Kal-El will draw ''no more power than Tegra 2'', given the same workload. The chip's power-sipping ways apparently come from some ''pretty significant architectural discoveries''. Engadget makes an even bolder claim, saying that Nvidia has promised an amazing 12 hours of HD video playback, ''under the right circumstances''.

The big question now, of course, is - when can we get our hands on it? The answer according to Nvidia is August, at least for tablet devices, with phones to gain some quad-core goodness towards Christmas and first-half 2012.

From the roadmap presented at MWC, Nvidia isn't planning on taking its foot off the gas anytime soon. By 2012, the chip maker is planning to have ''Wayne'' out the door, promising double the performance of Kal-El. Next up is ''Logan'',in 2013 with a five-fold increase over the generation that preceded it, then ''Stark'' in 2014, with double the performance of ''Logan''. If nothing else, the roadmap proves that there are some hardcore comic fans over at Nvidia.

The proof will be in the final tech that lands in the hands of users, but if the demos presented at MWC - and included below - are anything to go by, Nvidia is making an all-in grab for the mobile space.

Image Credit: AnandTech

 



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