Nvidia Demos Killer Quad-Core Kal-El Processor, Hitting Tablets by August

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.

Roadmap and Firsts

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.

Video Playback

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.

Game Play

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.

Web Surfing

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.

Benchmark Scores

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.

Power Saving

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.

Is it Tegra 3?

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.

Avram Piltch
Avram Piltch
The official Geeks Geek, as his weekly column is titled, Avram Piltch has guided the editorial and production of Laptopmag.com since 2007. With his technical knowledge and passion for testing, Avram programmed several of LAPTOP's real-world benchmarks, including the LAPTOP Battery Test. He holds a master’s degree in English from NYU.
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  1. mark Says:

    could this chip run laptops? as most of the ones i have overheat then turn off, this chip would be ideal to over come this problem and lower the electric bill, also i was thinking of adapting one in my ps3. would it be possible??

  2. Willrandship Says:

    Sort of. The problem lies in the type of processor. Laptops use an x86 processor, that’s slower and less power efficient, but very backwards compatible. A PS3 uses a PowerPC Processor, like the old macs. This is an ARM processor, you’ll find them in portable stuff like the DS, and smartphones, because they are very power efficient, but lack in speed (except this one :P) and aren’t very backwards compatible. Android helps a lot with compatibility, though, once you get a version of it running, since it’s designed to let fairly different hardware do the same things. Your PS3 couldn’t use this, but sony could put one in the PS4 if they wanted to. Your laptop couldn’t use this, but new laptops could, if designed for it.

  3. drumsk8 Says:

    As the above poster said was right but lacking a little detail which i want to clarify for you!

    Computers use an x86 architectural cpu, and these range in performance and power, and atom processor is energy efficient, but very slow, and has allot of cache removed from L2 ect… so it can execute the x86 code but it’s not very powerful, these are your netbooks. Laptops use a more powerful chip more L2 cache and can execute code more efficiently however they use more power, these are your centrino processors. Core2duo/quad or i3/5/7 and sandybridge and don’t for get AMD has their own variants through out all these versions, are the most power hungry at 95watts some more some less. But these chips have large L2/L3 cache and can execute code very efficiently!

    The PS3 is a PowerPC processor from IBM but it’s then modified into what’s called the Cell processor, it has another 7 SPU/SPE so effectively it’s 8 cores! however the SPU/SPE’s are special purpose cores and don’t do x86 code but are more like graphics cores and good at doing other physics or render based work which gives the Cell it’s 200GFLOP advantage over a 20GFLOP i7 say, but then a new 400+ core graphics card can pump out 1TFLOP easy so it’s all down to what the core is designed to do and the code that’s executed on it. No a graphics card couldn’t ever run windows! The PS4 will not be using this chip it’s no where near powerful enough! and also wouldn’t support the coding standards needed, the bullshit comparison with a xbox360 was a joke there claiming it had 6 cores? really? I don’t think so it’s 3 PowerPC chips together on one die! and since IBM doesn’t own the Hyper threading technology I would love to see how they said 6cores!

    However it’s not less impressive of it’s power and the future of gaming and media on mobile devices to come, but serious don’t compare it with a 360 or ps3 there so far out the league of this chip its a joke and insult.

    ARM which is what these device is uses Cortex cores and are not x86 friendly at all, they are even less powerful then an an atom chip or WHERE should i say since Cortex cores are now running 1 – 2GHz are catching up fast for the code they CAN execute. They are in our phones, Ipads / tablets and other consumer devices that don’t require an x86 architecture. Now the good news for you is that windows 8 and 9 (yes there being developed already they started before the release of 7 for god shake) ARE going to be supporting ARM cortex chips (well that’s M$ plan) since this will put windows 8/9 into tablets, phones and other devices to come and also utilize allot of cloud based computing and support. So no laptop would use this before they are supporting OS’s like linux i.e. honeycomb, chromeOS (google) or windows 8/9 there just not powerful enough for heaver applications. Media is one thing but actual number crunching done in most applications is another.

    So don’t expect to see windows running on a ARM processor before windows 8/9 and if you do, it’s already running massive overheads via an emulator. This of course is the exposition of windows phone 7, mobile and CE which was created for this cut-down power efficient processor.

    Programs written for x86 wont work on ARM because they don’t compile correctly the program would need to be recompiled from source with a compiler that supported ARM hardware i.e working with assemble code :D

    Now if you still have questions google and learn. If you really want to read some interesting stuff http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ARM_architecture

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