The State Of Mobile Processors (Part 5)

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But wait a minute. Didn’t we read something about the Tegra K1 being a 192-core chip? Well, what NVIDIA is referring to is the mobile Kepler GPU that will be in both the 32 and 64-bit versions of the K1, which is the other big thing in this K1 story. For the uninitiated, these 192 CUDA cores are based on NVIDIA’s desktop Kepler GPU architecture, the same one used in the GeForce 600 and 700 series of desktop GPUs. But compared to desktop Kepler, this mobile Kepler is a mere 2W GPU.

NVIDIA Tegra K1 reference design tablet hands-on

The other huge benefit of implementing the same GPU architecture across both desktop and mobile platforms is that both get the same level of API support, thus making life so much easier for developers to port their desktop and console engines to mobile devices like smartphones and tablets. The Tegra K1 supports OpenGL ES 3.0, OpenGL 4.4, DirectX 11, tessellation, and CUDA 6.0, and it’s also the first mobile GPU to support the Unreal Engine 4 game engine. For those lost in all these geek speak, just know that the K1’s graphics prowess supposedly betters that of the PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360. We’ve heard of ‘console-level graphics’ being thrown around a lot by mobile chipset makers, but looks like this time it’s for real. And we’re pretty sure NVIDIA has approached Microsoft and Sony, who besides making the PlayStation and Xbox, are also making phones and tablets.


First Class Gaming Flatform

Several Questions Unanswered

At this early stage, the Tegra K1 looks super promising. Tom’s Hardware has some 3DMark results that show the 32-bit, quad-core K1 outperforming the Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 and the Apple A7. And in the GFXBench graphics benchmark, the K1 also outruns Qualcomm and Apple’s chips, offering nearly double the frame rate at 1080p. Of course, one should take these results with a pinch of salt, because the K1 used here was in a Lenovo ThinkVision 28, a huge all-in-one desktop device. In other words, the differences in power management and cooling options may have skewed the results.


The quad-core K1 outperforming the Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 and the Apple A7 in 3DMark

Also at this point in time, there are still several unanswered questions regarding NVIDIA’s ‘super chip’. While both versions of the Tegra K1 are likely to be fabricated using TSMC’s 28nm HPM process, judging from NVIDIA’s presentation slides, if drawn to scale, a Denver core is twice as big as a Cortex-A15 core. No die size details were given, so the K1 may well turn out to be a big chip. And while NVIDIA may have successfully built a low-power mobile Kepler GPU, the power consumption of the whole Tegra K1 package is still an unknown. Lastly, it remains to be seen if NVIDIA can ship the K1 on time, especially the Denver-based K1, which is expected to arrive in the second half of this year.

As things stand now, it looks increasingly likely that the majority of the SoC battles come late 2014 and early 2015 would be fought on the GPU front.



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