Final Words

The first thing everyone at NVIDIA asked me after I saw Kal-El running was an eager and expected: "well, what did you think?"

On the one hand, we have a clear underdog in the SoC space demonstrating a brand new chip just 12 days after getting it back from the fab. It's functional, it can render 3D games, it can decode high bitrate video and it runs Android today. The word impressive is insufficient to convey the magnitude of what I just described, particularly in the SoC space.

On the other hand, it's still just an announcement. It wasn't too long ago that NVIDIA was struggling to name a single design win. The recent success with LG, Motorola and Samsung is awesome, but it isn't a guarantee of what's to come. That being said, the handset vendors and carriers clearly take NVIDIA seriously today and they would be foolish not to consider Kal-El as it'll be the quickest way to get to quad-core in an Android phone.

Architecturally, Kal-El isn't a huge departure from what we currently have today with Tegra 2. NVIDIA claims a 5x performance improvement over Tegra 2 however that seems a bit optimistic. The 5x gains appear to be from combining the 2x theoretical gain from 2 to 4 cores plus a 3x gain from the new GPU. NVIDIA claims that this is enough to put Kal-El above a Core 2 Duo clocked at 2GHz (see the test results below), however the NVIDIA generated scores seem suspect not to mention that Coremark isn't representative of the sort of workload you'd see on a smartphone/tablet. 

If NVIDIA can increase clock speeds a bit we'll see better performance than Tegra 2 on lightly threaded workloads, but I'm not convinced of the gains to be had in single-tasking workloads from four cores in a smartphone/tablet. The bigger gains over Tegra 2 will likely come from any improvements to the memory controller as well as the faster GPU. This being said, NVIDIA does believe that even web page rendering can benefit significantly from a quad-core CPU so I could be very well proven wrong once devices are out in the wild.

If NVIDIA can secure significant design wins with Kal-El based tablets in August of this year and smartphones in Q4 I will be beyond impressed. NVIDIA gets major points for putting on good demos of working silicon today but in this business you need to have devices. For now we play the waiting game. I suspect if you're not taking NVIDIA seriously at this point, you really should be.

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  • Lucian Armasu - Wednesday, February 16, 2011 - link

    They're working on customized ARM chip for servers, called Project Denver, and will be released in 2013. It's mostly focused on performance so they will make it as powerful as an ARM chip can get around that time. It will also be targeted at PC's.
  • Enzo Matrix - Wednesday, February 16, 2011 - link

    Superman < Batman < Wolverine < Iron Man?

    Kinda doing things in reverse order aren't you, Nvidia?
  • ltcommanderdata - Wednesday, February 16, 2011 - link

    It's interesting that nVidia's Coremark slide uses a recent GCC 4.4.1 build on their Tegras but uses a much older GCC 3.4.4 build on the Core 2 Duo. I can't help but think nVidia is trying to find a bad Core 2 Duo score in order to make their own CPU look more impressive.
  • Lucian Armasu - Wednesday, February 16, 2011 - link

    I think you missed their point. They're trying to say that ARM chips are quickly catching up in performance with desktop/laptop chips.
  • jordanp - Wednesday, February 16, 2011 - link

    On Tegra Roadmap chart.. looks like that curve is leveling at 100 on STARK... reaching the limit boundary of 11nm node?!!
  • Lucian Armasu - Wednesday, February 16, 2011 - link

    I think they'll reach 14 nm in 2014. IBM made a partnership with ARM to make 14 nm chips.
  • beginner99 - Wednesday, February 16, 2011 - link

    ... in a mobile phone? Most people only have 2 in their many PC. Agreed, does 2 are much more powerful but still, it will end up the same as on pc side. tons of cores and only niche software using it.

    I still have a very old "phone only" mobile. Yesterday I had some time to kill and looked at a few smart phones. And saw exactly what someone described here. They all seemed laggy and choppy, except the iPhone. I'm anything but an apple Fan boy (more like the opposite) but if I where a consumer with 0 knowledge just by playing with the phone I would chose to buy an iPhone.
  • jasperjones - Wednesday, February 16, 2011 - link

    Did anyone look at the fine print in the chart with the Coremark benchmark?

    Not only do they use more aggressive compiler flags for their products than for the T7200, they also use a much more recent version of gcc. At the very least, they are comparing apples and oranges. Actually, I'm more inclined to call it cheating...
  • Visual - Wednesday, February 16, 2011 - link

    This looks like Moore's Law on steroids.
    I guess (hope?) it is technically possible, simply because for a while now we've had the reverse thing - way slower progress than Moore's Law predicts. So for a brief period we may be able to do some catch-up sprints like this.
    I don't believe it will last long though.

    Another question is if it is economically feasible though. What impact will this have on the prices of the previous generation? If the competition can not catch up, wouldn't nVidia decide to simply hold on to the new one instead of releasing it, trying to milk the old one as much as they can, just like all other greedy corporations in similar industries?

    And finally, will consumers find an application for that performance? It not being x86 compatible, apps will have to be made specifically for it and that will take time.
    I for one can not imagine using a non-x86 machine yet. I need it to be able to run all my favorite games, i.e. WoW, EVE Online, Civ 5 or whatever. I'd love a lightweight 10-12 inch tablet that can run those on max graphics, with a wireless keyboard and touch pad for the ones that aren't well suited for tablet input. But having the same raw power without x86 compatibility will be relatively useless, for now. I guess developers may start launching cool new games for that platform too, or even release the old ones on the new platform where it makes sense (Civ 5 would make a very nice match to tablets, for example), but I doubt it will happen quickly enough.
  • Harry Lloyd - Wednesday, February 16, 2011 - link

    I'm sick of smartphones. All I see here are news about smartphones, just like last year all I saw were news about SSDs.

    Doesn't anything else happen in this industry?

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