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Tuesday, September 20, 2011
Nvidia's Quad-core Kal-El Processor Features Stealth Fifth Core

Nvidia's next-generation Tegra processor, codenamed "Project Kal-El," is widely known as the world?s first quad-core mobile chip. However, Nvidia today unveiled Kal-El?s little-known fifth core.

The Project Kal-El processor implements the new Variable SMP architecture technology. vSMP inludes a fifth core built using a low power silicon process, it runs at a lower frequency and operates at low power. 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.

In addition to four main Cortex A9 high-performance CPU cores, a fifth low power, low leakage Cortex A9 CPU core is optimized to minimize active standby state power consumption and handle less demanding processing tasks.

Power performance measurements released by Nvidia on Kal-El show that the fifth core delivers higher performance per watt than the main cores at operating frequencies below 500 MHz.

vSMP is also completely OS transparent, which means that operating systems and applications don't need to be redesigned to take advantage of the fifth core.

When the Companion core is turned off and the mobile processor using main cores for processing, the CPU Governor and CPU management logic continues to monitor workload and utilization of each the main cores, dynamically enabling or disabling one to four of the main cores.

Of course, the vSMP technology does not allow both the fifth core and the main cores to be enabled at the same time. The fifth core and the main cores also share the same L2 cache, Nvidia said.

Nvidia also claims that quad-core Kal-El uses less power than dual-core processors across all performance points.

Nvidia's results from Moonbat, a Web based JavaScript benchmark, show that a quad core CPU delivers almost fifty percent faster Web browsing performance compared to dual core CPU based mobile processors.

Project Kal-El also includes a new 12-core GPU that delivers up to 3x the graphics performance of Tegra 2, as well as several additional new capabilities, according to Nvidia. The graph below shows the performance speedup that the quad core CPU based Project Kal-El platform provides for the Glowball demo over an equivalent dual core CPU based platform.

Handbrake, a popular video transcoding application, delivers faster transcoding on a quad core CPU system compared to a dual core system.

The 40nm Kal-El is expected to hit tablets in late 2011 and early 2012.

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