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Nvidia Corp. on Wednesday formally introduced currently the most powerful ARM-based system-on-chip for ultra-portable devices, the Tegra 3 previously known as "Kal El". The new chip has five ARM cores and a powerful graphics engine that are capable of delivering desktop-class performance and features to powerful smartphones and tablets amid great battery life thanks to innovative power-saving technologies.

Nvidia Tegra "Kal-El" system-on-chip (SoC) is based on four high-performance Cortex-A9 general-purpose cores with Neon accelerators (1.4GHz single-core or 1.30GHz quad-core mode) and one power-optimized Cortex-A9 core (up to 500MHz), features a GeForce graphics processing unit with twelve stream processors and will have a new display and video engines capable of supporting Blu-ray disc video playback and stereo-3D graphics output. The new device integrates single-channel DDR3L-1500/LPDDR2-1066 memory controller, e.MMC 4.41, SD 3.0, SATA II, 7.1-channel audio controller, faster image signal processor and so on. According to Nvidia's own performance benchmarks, Tegra 3 is 50% - 200%+ faster than Tegra 2 in various applications.

The Tegra 3 processor implements Nvidia's variable symmetric multiprocessing (vSMP) technology, which adds fifth "companion" core to high-speed Cortex-A9. The companion core is architecturally similar to other general-purpose cores, but it is made using LP (low-power) process technology (and thus can operate at significantly lowered voltages) and operates at clock-speeds in the range between 0MHz and 500MHz, whereas other cores are capable of working at over 1GHz frequencies.

During less power-hungry tasks like web reading, music playback and video playback, Kal-El completely powers down its four performance-tuned cores and instead uses its fifth companion core. For higher performance tasks, Kal-El disables its companion core and turns on its four performance cores, one at a time, as the work load increases.

Patented hardware and software CPU management logic continuously monitors the SoC workload to automatically and dynamically enable and disable the companion core and the main general-purpose performance-optimized ARM cores. The decision to turn on and off the companion and main cores is purely based on current SoC workload levels and the resulting CPU operating frequency recommendations made by the CPU frequency control subsystem embedded in the operating system kernel.

"Nvidia's fifth core is ingenious. Tegra 3's vSMP technology extends the battery life of next-generation mobile devices by using less power when they're handling undemanding tasks and then ratcheting up performance when it's really needed," said Nathan Brookwood, research fellow at Insight 64.

According to Nvidia, massively improved general-purpose and graphics processing performance will enable Tegra 3 devices to provide massively improved web browsing experience, richer applications, fastest multitasking along with console-like video gaming experience. Along with other improvements, Tegra 3 will support output to HDTVs (via HDMI 1.4 output) as well as will support third-party controllers (via USB and other inputs).

The Tegra 3 processor is in production. Developers can order the Tegra 3 Developer Kit to create applications for devices with Tegra such as tablets and super phones at Nvidia's web-site. The first actual Tegra 3-based device will be Asustek Computer's Eee Pad Transformer Prime.

Tags: Nvidia, Kal-El, Tegra, 40nm, ARM, Cortex

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