Nvidia’s about to up to the ante again in the mobile processor race. At a private meeting tonight in Barcelona, the company demoed its brand new quad-core processor and announced it has already begin sending samples to vendors. Tablets using the chip, codenamed “Kal-El,” could hit the market as soon as August.
With a quad-core CPU and 12-core GPU, Kal-El promises double the CPU performance and three times the graphics performance of today’s industry-leading Tegra 2 chip at even lower power consumption. At tonight’s demo, Nvidia SVP Phil Carmack said that the faster processor would lead to new tablets with higher screen resolutions, because the tablet can output video smoothly at up to 1440p (2560 x 1600). He and his team also demonstrated the new chip’s capacity enhance gaming and web surfing on mobile devices.
More details on Kal-El, demo videos, and our impressions of the demos are below. Note that the demos were conducted in a dark room with only screens for lighting.
Though Qualcomm just announced it is planning to release a quad-core mobile processor, its solution isn’t due until 2012. With Nvidia Kal-El sampling right now and due to ship in devices this August, it will become the first mobile quad core chip on the market.
You can see in the graphic below that Kal-El will be followed by three other chips codenamed Wayne, Logan, and Stark. Nvidia was not ready to discuss these chips, except to say that they are the next steps after Kal-El.
Carmack showed the assembled journalists a 2560 x 1600 video on a 30-inch monitor that was being driven by a Kal-El Tablet. He said that Kal-El is “able to do extreme high definition video, the likes of which has never been seen in a mobile device or, for that matter, on any consumer product.” Carmack said he believes that the ability to show content at this resolution will not only help with outputting videos, but that 2560 x 1600 will become a screen resolution you may see on future mobile devices because of its increased clarity and sharpness.
Check out the video below to see the 1440p video demo in action and here what Carmack had to say about it.
Obviously, a more powerful GPU and CPU means a better gaming experience. To show what kind of performance improvements we can expect from Kal-El, Nvidia brought in developer Slitherine Ltd to show off an Android version of the game Great Battles Medieval running on a Kal-El tablet. In the video below, you’ll see that the game runs much more slowly on Tegra 2 and also has about a third fewer characters on screen.
Even with a perfect Internet connection, the best of today’s tablets will not render a page as quickly as a low-end Windows PC. However, with Kal-El, you’ll be able to render pages much faster, matching the speed of a Core 2 Duo PC. In the video below, you’ll see a benchmark demo.
To get a baseline idea of how Kal-El compares to Tegra 2 and other processors, Nvidia showed how Kal-El stacks up using the CoreMark benchmark for Android. As you can see in the graphic below, the new quad-core CPU gets 11,354 to the 5,840 today’s Tegra 2 scores. It even beats out a low-end Core 2 Duo CPU! Considering how much power the Core 2 Duo consumes compared to a Tegra chip, that’s truly impressive.
During the session, Nvidia stressed that Kal-El will actually be more power efficient than Tegra 2. While playing that 1440p video in the demo, the CPU and chipset only consumed 400 milliwatts of power. However, he pointed out that the most power hungry component in any tablet or smart phone is its screen backlight, which Nvidia doesn’t control. So the improvements in battery life on real-world devices may not be extremely dramatic because Nvidia doesn’t control the screens.
During our session, Carmack referred to the chip as Tegra 3 and was immediately asked if “Kal-El” will be called Tegra 3 as its official name. He told reporters that internally Nvidia developers think of Kal-El as the third Tegra processor (hence, Tegra 3), but that Nvidia has not yet decided what the marketing name of the chip will be when it ships later this year. It could be called Tegra 3, but the company hasn’t decided yet.
Is there any doubt that Kal-El will be the next big thing in mobile processors? Just as Tegra 2 today is leading the way as the first Honeycomb-certified processor and is powering many of the world’s hottest Android tablets, we have every reason to believe Kal-El could be the driving force behind this fall’s hottest tablets and most powerful phones this holiday.