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.

Stephen Shankland principal writer
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Stephen Shankland
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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.