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Nvidia’s Tegra 3 Kal-El chip opens eyes: It’s penta-core not quad-core

Nvidia has released a couple of whitepapers detailing the specifics of its upcoming Tegra 3/Kal-El CPU, set to appear in devices at the end of this year. We heard about Kal-El earlier in the year and even got to witness its power in action at Mobile World Congress.

We understood then that Kal-El was to be five times as powerful as Nvidia’s dual-core Tegra 2 chip, capable of supporting 1440p (2560 x 1600) Extreme HD resolution video. Back then however we thought that Kal-El was going to be a quad-core processor; turns out that this isn’t quite the case.

While four 1GHz cores are indeed present at the heart of the Kal-El set up, there’s also a fifth hidden ‘companion core’. This fifth core, that handles tasks that a 500MHz chip could easily process, focuses on performing basic every day tasks like answering calls, checking email and playing music.

When you start browsing the web, the first core proper will kick in, with the second core activating when things like video chat and Flash are needed. Finally, when you want to indulge in some high-end gaming or HD video streaming, all four cores come on line.

Kombined Kryptonian Kores

Primarily, the combined cores ought to allow for more efficient battery use. Matt Wuebbling says over on Nvidia’s blog that “Kal-El completely powers down its four performance-tuned cores”; the first whitepaper (Variable SMP – A Multi-Core CPU Architecture for Low Power and High Performance) goes into greater detail about how distributing tasks across the four 1GHz cores is more efficient than a faster dual-core set up (compared to a Qualcomm MSM8600 running at 1.2GHz).

All sounds good on paper; what’s really important of course is just how well this all performs in real life situations.

Other touted benefits of the penta-core set up include faster web browsing (as you’d expect) file greater physics simulations and ‘3D stereo games and applications’.

While 3D gaming on phones hasn’t exactly taken off, with the 3D effects of the LG Optimus 3D and the HTC Evo 3D not exactly this is good news for 3D enthusiasts. There’s not yet been a tablet with a 3D stereoscopic screen. Something like 3D games and movies could work more effectively on a bigger tablet display than it does on a circa 4-inch phone screen.

The first device rumoured to contain Kal-El’s Kryptonian kores is thought to be a sequel to the Asus Eee Pad Transformer that will run on Ice Cream Sandwich.

Source: Nvidia

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