Nvidia has unveiled new details concerning the company's next-generation quad-core Tegra processor for mobile
devices, also known as Project Kal-El. Among other things, the new quad-core chip will also integrate an additional companion core dedicated to performing background tasks whenever the mobile device is in active standby.
Called variable symmetric multiprocessing (vSMP), the technology is to take its inaugural bows in one or more Android tablets coming to mobile markets before the end of the year. Nvidia's goal is to strike the optimum balance between processor performance and power consumption in mobile device applications.
During less power-hungry tasks such as web reading, music playback and video playback, Kal-El completely powers down its four performance-tuned cores and instead uses its fifth companion core, said Matt Wuebbling, the director of Tegra product marketing at Nvidia.
"For higher-performance tasks, Kal-El disables its companion core and turns on its four performance cores, one at a time, as the workload increases," Wuebbling wrote in a blog.
Chip Architecture Innovation
Kal-El's main CPU is built on a fast-process technology to enable its four cores to operate at very high frequencies, and with up to four cores running simultaneously in support of console class gaming, faster browsing and media processing. By contrast, Kal-El's companion core is fabricated using a special-low power silicon process that is suited for performing background tasks at low frequency to minimize power consumption.
Nvidia is combining both silicon processes within a single system-on-a-chip optimized for both high performance and low power consumption. The companion core addresses the fact that many mobile devices spend up to 80 percent of their time devoted to performing background tasks while in active standby.
"Android could probably take advantage of this feature more than other operating systems because [Google's mobile platform performs] a lot of multitasking in the background," said Francis Sideco, a senior principal analyst at IHS iSuppli. "This is what needs to be done in order to evolve the user experience to what consumers need."
However, Android isn't the only mobile OS that Nvidia's new chip is targeting.
"Kal-El does support a variety of operating systems including Android and Windows on ARM," a spokesperson for Nvidia said Tuesday. "The same technology will be deployed across all platforms."
Android's tablet-friendly Honeycomb platform features built-in support for leveraging the performance of CPUs equipped with multiple cores. However, Nvidia notes that Google's tablet OS schedules core tasks based on the assumption that all available cores have equal performance capabilities.
The chip designer has addressed this issue by embedding additional hardware and software management capabilities into the system to enable the processor to differentiate between Kal-El's quad-core CPU and the extra companion core. The solution avoids placing additional demands on device vendors or mobile-app developers.
"The variable SMP architecture is also completely OS-transparent, which means that operating systems and applications don't need to be redesigned to take advantage of the fifth core," Wuebbling said.
Additionally, Project Kal-El includes a brand-new 12-core GPU capable of delivering up to three times the graphics performance of Tegra 2, as well as several additional new capabilities.
"We'll have more details on these aspects soon," Wuebbling said.