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Quad-core Tegra 3 - The Coming of Kal-El

By Wong Casandra - 9 Nov 2011

Quad-core Tegra 3 - The Coming of Kal-El

Looking at Kal-El

We had our first glimpse at the Tegra 3 quad-core processor earlier during a demonstration at Computex 2011; just to recap, these were the key pointers shared with us the first time round:

  • Originally codenamed as Project Kal-El
  • The world's first quad-core SOC with a quad-core CPU engine
  • 12 GPU CUDA cores based NVIDIA GPU intrgrated
  • Runs OpenGL ES 2.0 content fluently
  • Has an overall processing throughput 5 times that of the Tegra 2
  • Thermal design power (TDP) is roughly equivalent to that of Tegra 2
  • Supports screen resolutions as high as 2560 x 1600 pixels
  • Able to process and playback very high definition videos; up to 4 x Full HD (1440p)
  • Retail products with Tegra 3 can be expected after Q3 this year
  • Also targeted at tablets and super phones

As mentioned, the Tegra 3 processor will come with five times the performance of Tegra 2. Beyond Tegra 3, NVIDIA's next-gen processor is reportedly said to be able to achieve 10 times the performance of Tegra 2. The question then is, will the more powerful Tegra 3 require more energy to run? Seems like NVIDIA has come up with a nifty solution: the main focus here lies with the implementation of the new Variable Symmetric Multiprocessing (vSMP) technology, which addresses the problem of energy usage in Tegra 2. The new quad-core processor with a fifth companion core for low power needs is said to take up 61% less power and offer up to 12 hours of video playback compared to the existing Tegra 2 mobile processing solution.

Tegra 3 in a nutshell.

How does this technology work? The vSMP includes a fifth CPU core called the Companion core that executes low-powered tasks like being on active standby, music or video playback. All cores are identical ARM Cortex A9 CPUs, and are individually automatically enabled or disabled based on workload, i.e., the level of intensity needed for differing tasks. The Companion core is also OS transparent; there's no need for recoding to take advantage of its abilities. Here's a video of how the 5th companion core will work alongside the four core CPUs:

This is an example of an intensive operation which might see all four CPU cores active. For surfing a normal website for example, one CPU core will be activated. Surfing on sites with more intensive activity required, such as playing Flash clips, will possible require 2 CPU cores to be running.

The 5th Companion core will only be activated for low activity tasks (0 to 500 MHz). Some examples given were watching videos, listening to music and putting the device on active standby. As such, the four core CPUS will be deactivated, reducing battery consumption.

The other aspect to the Tegra 3 is of course, its enhanced performance; it is said to be able to emulate real-time natural and realistic effects - such as water ripples/smoke - more smoothly. These effects will be added onto games that already exist (for e.g., iOS games like Sprinkle, Riptide and Shadowgun) and they are part of the 15+ games under development for Tegra 3 that will be eventually available on Tegra Zone. Here's a video that displays the in-game prowess of the Tegra 3 chip and another of our own captured from demos made by NVIDIA at Computex 2011:

Take a close look at both basic version (left) and enhanced version (right) for the Tegra 3 devices of a game called Sprinkle. You can clearly seen the more realistic texture of both smoke and water in the enhanced version.


Wide game controller support (PS3, XBOX 360, Wii, Logitech, and more) is also available, allowing users to play on the device itself or hook up to a bigger screen for a close to true console experience. Rounding up the gaming features is the ability to work with 3D monitors or 3D TVs (glasses or without) via HDMI. Speaking of games and entertainment, take note that Tegra 3 would also eventually support NVIDIA's 3D Vision technology (without the glasses of course) to enhance user experience just like they've done so for the desktop PCs without actually needing content to be developed for 3D viewing specifically.

The upcoming Eee Pad Transformer Prime will be the world's first NVIDIA Tegra 3 quad-core tablet (official website here). NVIDIA has also mentioned that Tegra 3 mobile phones will be available in Q1 of next year (the leaked HTC Edge is one rumored quad-core smartphone that is said to be out by then or early Q2). Tegra 3 will come in a slightly different package for smartphones but the NVIDIA representative has promised that there will not be substantial differences and that more information will be provided when it's officially announced.

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