Nvidia touts quad-core Kal-El chip in Android tablet

Using a Honeycomb tablet, Nvidia shows a game it says needs all four cores of its Tegra mobile processor that's due to ship later this year.

Nvidia's Glowball demo running on a Honeycomb Android tablet using the company's quad-core Kal-El processor technology
Nvidia's Glowball demo running on a Honeycomb Android tablet using the company's quad-core Kal-El processor technology screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET

Nvidia, an emerging power in the world of ARM processors for smartphones and tablets, has published a demonstration game called Glowball the company says shows what can be achieved with its quad-core Kal-El mobile processor project .

In the demo, an internally lit ball rolls around a playing board. With "dynamic lighting," shapes on the ball's exterior casting shadows on stacked barrels, lurking jack-in-the-boxes, hanging rugs, and a creepy clown face. The game's physics engine is wired into the tablet's accelerometer to determine how the ball rolls, the rugs hang, and the barrels tumble.

"All this is being simulated in real time. There's no canned animations," Nvidia says in the video. It generally runs smoothly, though it's not clear what the lag is between when the user tilts the tablet and when the game responds.

The company has carved out a niche compared with traditional mobile chip rivals such as Texas Instruments and Qualcomm with its dual-core Tegra 2, used in the Motorola Xoom and Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1--the two current flagship Android tablets. Kal-El has five times the performance, Nvidia boasts, though it's not clear exactly what measurements it bases this conclusion on. Part of the project is a 12-core graphics processing unit, too.

Clicking a button restricts the game to two of the Kal-El's four cores. "Now the simulations are happening on two cores, and it becomes unplayable--very low frame rates," Nvidia said.

"This is preproduction silicon," the company adds. "The production chip will be 25 to 30 percent faster than this."

That's good, because the game, while smooth when the ball was just rolling gently, was pretty hard to follow when bumping into the jack-in-the-boxes triggered fast-paced moments.

Mobile processors are a hot market--but a tricky one. Smartphone customers want high performance--lavish games with smooth graphics, Web applications that don't crawl compared with desktop equivalents, touch screens that respond immediately for a light feel. But they also don't want a high-powered chip that exhausts the battery in only a few hours.

What's not yet clear is the tradeoff between multiple cores and fewer, faster cores. Chipmakers have run into power-consumption limits running processors at faster clock speeds and have responded by trying to get more work done in each tick of a chip's clock and by spreading work across multiple cores.

However, programming for multi-core chips isn't always easy. Physics engines in games like Glowball can use the power by running instructions in parallel, but a lot of computing tasks depend on how fast a chip can run a single sequence of instructions.

Nvidia's mobile push, at least in the near term, is heavily dependent on the success of Android tablets. Chief Executive Jen-Hsun Huang expects Android tablets to outsell iPads within three years . Huang also blamed Android tablets' lackluster debut on retail, marketing, and prices .

Customers are planning production of Kal-El-based devices for August to go on sale in the 2011 holiday season, Nvidia has told CNET.

Nvidia plans several other generations of Tegra mobile chips after Kal-El, each with improving performance. In 2012 comes Wayne, in 2013 comes Logan, and in 2014 comes Stark. The company claims that Kal-El outpaces an Intel Core 2 Duo processor, though it's not clear which model or on what performance measurement.

People will be able to try their own hand to see if Nvidia's demo matches their own results: Nvidia plans to put Glowball on the Android market so people can try the app themselves. How about an iPad version too?

Nvidia's Tegra roadmap extends three years beyond Kal-El.
Nvidia's Tegra roadmap extends three years beyond Kal-El. Nvidia

Via All Things D.

 

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