prospect of quad-core or higher smartphones excites many, but it also evokes fear.
Many already suffering from somewhat
poor battery life so imagine such high core-count designs as being Shiva
incarnate for smartphone batteries, a destroyer of your pleasant smartphone
But such fears may yet prove unfounded, as many manufacturers are cooking up
unique solutions to having a high core count, while keeping a relatively lean
NVIDIA Corp. (NVDA), makers of the Tegra series of ARM
system-on-a-chip (SoC) CPU/GPU designs today unveiled the secret of its plans
to make its upcoming Kal-El quad-core
SoC more power efficient. The secret is basically this --
NVIDIA's quad-core chip is really a penta-core.
Yes, Tegra 3 has a low-power fifth "companion" core that's
essentially the kind of modest ARM design that power the superb power efficiency
of devices like the original iPhone. NVIDIA writes [press release]:
During less power-hungry tasks like web reading, music playback
and video playback, Kal-El completely powers down its four performance-tuned
cores and instead uses its fifth companion core. For higher performance tasks,
Kal-El disables its companion core and turns on its four performance cores, one
at a time, as the work load increases.
NVIDIA has published two white papers  on the technology and
related Kal-El developments.
The incremental approach to enabling the cores means that Kal-El chips,
which will likely be clocked up to 1.5 GHz and may deliver as good or better
battery life as current models (providing you aren't doing video encoding and
playing 3D games all day). In fact, NVIDIA says Kal-El delivers
better battery life than its current generation Tegra 2 (dual-core) chips.
In benchmarks, the new chips were also shown posting almost twice the
benchmark score of rival Qualcomm Inc.'s (QCOM) MSM8660 dual-core SoC and Texas Instruments
Inc.'s (TXN) OMAP4 (1 GHz) processor.
Note, Tegra 2 and Tegra 3 are both 40 nm chips produced by Taiwan Semiconductor
Manufacturing Comp., Ltd. (TPE:2330) so NVIDIA isn't
"cheating" with die shrinks on that test. However, Qualcomm
uses TSMC's 45 nm technology in the MSM8660, while TI uses its own 45 nm
process in the OMAP4 chips, thus the transistor size is slightly larger, so be
aware that NVIDIA may not be comparing apples to apples, exactly, in its
comparison with rival chip designs.
Kal-El tablets are now expected to be shipping this holiday season,
in Q4 2011. Initially the tablets were slated for a Q3 2011 release
(summer), but that date was pushed back. NVIDIA CEO Jen Hsun-Huang says that some of the
delay is based on hardware partners "getting the industrial design as
wonderful as possible, and some of it is related to tuning and
For this holiday season the NVIDIA chip is expected to be found exclusively in
Android tablets. However, Kal-El and the more powerful Wayne (Tegra
4) chips are expected to be featured prominently in ARM-based
Windows 8 tablet designs next holiday season.
NVIDIA is packing a more powerful GPU core into Kal-El, which packs
12 streaming multiprocessors (SMPs). It says it plans to unveil more
details about new features on the GPU side of the coin shortly.
The company claims to have a 70 percent market share among Android tablets and
a little less than 50 percent market share in the smart phone market [source], though recent reports
have indicated that NVIDIA still trails Qualcomm slightly in the smart phone
For those who don't read comics, Kal-El is the original name
of DC Comics superhero Superman. While Tegra 3 and 4 are named after DC
superheroes, Tegra 5-7 are codenamed after Marvel Comics heroes
("Grey", "Logan", and "Stark", respectively).
Stark (Tegra 7) is expected to launch in 2014.