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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  • Khato - Wednesday, February 16, 2011 - link

    The only portion of the design that could be considered 'new' is the 1.5x GPU, but given NVIDIA's expertise in that area it's not too surprising that they'd have no issues executing that. The actual core changes consist of using another pre-made component, the MPE, per core and then doubling the number of cores... In other words, I'd be shocked if they got back first silicon and it -didn't- work flawlessly. That's kinda the point of licensing a design that's already fully tested and simply needs to be 'plugged in'.

    As for the performance metrics demonstrated... The 'gaming' is most likely due to the improved graphics, which is unquestionable NVIDIA's strength. The "Coremark 1.0" results meanwhile are yet more amusing. If that Kal-el score is indicative of final frequency performance, then I'd expect it to still be running at 1GHz because Coremark is an unrealistic benchmark that scales linearly with number of cores. It's also basically just an integer benchmark (more information is available on their site.) aka, that benchmark implies zero per-core performance increase for Kal-el over Tegra 2.
  • supergoodness - Wednesday, February 16, 2011 - link

    Being a HUGE Superman fan I have newfound love for NVIDIA since all these processors are codenamed superheroes.
    Kal-El – Superman
    Wayne – Batman
    Logan – Wolverine
    Stark – Ironman
    I guess I am easily entertained :)
  • ssiu - Wednesday, February 16, 2011 - link

    That is going to cause serious "Osborne effect" to all the Tegra2 tablets that are almost available now; if one can get something "5x better" in 6 months.
  • sarge78 - Wednesday, February 16, 2011 - link

    Looking forward to your analysis!
  • rs2 - Wednesday, February 16, 2011 - link

    So nVidia is claiming better performance than a Core 2 Duo, with power consumption that is suitable for a smartphone? I find that a little hard to believe. Both Intel and AMD are still at least a couple of iterations away from that mark with their current low-power offerings, so nVidia's claims seem a bit suspect, if you ask me.
  • dagamer34 - Saturday, February 19, 2011 - link

    The Core 2 Duo nVidia is comparing it's chip to is about 5 years old and was originally built on the 65nm process. Tegra 3 will be a 40nm process. Going from 65nm->40nm gives you about 2.56x number of transistors to work with. Also, the T7200 wasn't exactly the fastest that Intel had to offer at the time, but the Tegra 3 is bleeding edge.
  • Bonesdad - Wednesday, February 16, 2011 - link

    can they put Tony Stark above Bruce Wayne??? And Logan....really...
  • T2k - Wednesday, February 16, 2011 - link

    Seriously: other than shills like Anand etc does anyone else do this kinda of slave pieces like this?

    I mean full of BS PR, nothing concrete, only marketing shit for NV?
  • fr500 - Thursday, February 17, 2011 - link

    We need a Zotac motherboard/nettop with this and a custom Android interface, use office live or whatever and you have a more than enough system for daily usage, multimedia and even casual gaming (and not so casual with gameloft ripoffs)
  • tkafafi - Thursday, February 17, 2011 - link

    I was planning on getting a tablet this year; but waiting to see the ipad 2 specs.
    Seeing how fast the soc chips are evolving is making me wonder whether I'd be better off waiting for next year. I guess that is always the case in gadget world :)

    from the looks of it 2012 tablet features could include :
    * quad core arm processors
    * High resolution screens (ipad3 is rummored to be 4x this years model).
    * LTE ? Xoom is already commited to LTE upgrade.

    Hmmmm .... decisions decisions ....

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