Nvidia Announces Quad-Core Tegra Chip For Tablets

Tablet devices running the quad-core Tegra CPU, which includes a 12-core graphics processor, are slated to be available in August.
Manufacturers will begin shipping tablets running Nvidia's quad-core Tegra processor in August, the company said, marking an evolution in a market that will eventually offer tablets of varying performance levels at different prices.

Nvidia demonstrated the next-generation Tegra chip, codenamed Project Kal-El, Tuesday at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain. The company also released a Tegra roadmap that shows a new generation of the chip being released each year through 2014.

The company said tablet makers are testing the quad-core model and are expected to release products in August; it did not name the manufacturers.

Nvidia demonstrated the latest Tegra running video on an Android-based tablet at a resolution of 1440p on a screen that was 2560 by 1600 pixels. The resolution was much higher than what's considered true high definition today, which is 1080p, and is the highest possible for a 10-inch screen with 300 pixels per inch. The company did not say how much power the chip was consuming and did not release pricing.

The demonstrated showed the new Tegra running games, browsing the Web, and streaming video at speeds five times faster than the current Tegra 2, Michael Rayfield, general manager of Nvidia's mobile business unit, said on the company's blog. Along with the Tegra CPU, the complete tablet chipset included a 12-core Nvidia GeForce graphics processor, which will also be part of the product used by device manufacturers.

Nvidia won't be alone in shipping quad-core ARM processors for the tablet market. Qualcomm and Texas Instruments have similar chips planned, as do other manufacturers of ARM chips. Intel, which offers an x86 Atom processor for tablets, might take a bit longer, because it is still working on reducing the power consumption and size of its microarchitecture to fit mobile devices much smaller than a laptop. Over time, all the chipmakers are expected to move to quad-core tablet processors, which is an important step in the evolution of tablets.

"In the tablets space where visual computing is so important, this is a big deal," Jack Gold, president and principal analyst for J. Gold Associates, said of Nvidia's demo in an interview. "It's not just the four cores that are important, but the 12 graphic cores too. That's an important thing because now your talking about real-time processing, 3-D gaming, and all the other stuff people want to do."

Tablet chipmakers, similar to what has happened in the PC world, are adding cores faster than developers can build supporting applications and operating systems. The most popular tablet OSes today, Android and Apple iOS, do not support four-core processors. The same is true for applications.

Gold expects Google, which leads Android development, and Apple to move quickly in supporting the highest performing tablet processors. The same will be true of application developers, particularly those making games, over the next six to 12 months. "Everyone will get there," Gold said.

Processors of four cores and beyond will be in the most expensive tablets, which will co-exist with less expensive products running less powerful processors, which is the state of the PC industry today.

"You'll see a continuum. You'll see low-end tablets for $199 and high-end tablets for $899 and everything in between," Gold said. "It'll depend on the screen, it'll depend on the processor, it'll depend on the memory, and it'll depend on a lot of different things. It's starting to look more and more like a PC market."

Nvidia also showed a roadmap for its Tegra processor that listed codenames, but no other details on chips beyond Kal-El. In 2012, Nvidia plans to release Wayne, followed by Logan and Stark, respectively.

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