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By Dan Rowinski

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Quad-core revolution for mobile devices – leaving PC chips in the dust?

I was just getting used to the idea of dual-core, ARM-based mobile processors for tablets and smart phones, which are set to be released soon. For devices with 3.5- to 10.1-inch capacitive touch screens and no hard drives, that seemed to be an amazing feat. Now the chipmakers are about to blow my meager perceptions out of the water.

Nvidia is on the forefront. It announced at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona its mobile roadmap for the next three years. It does not look like there are any dual-core processors in the works.

They are quad-core processors.

“Today [Feb. 15] at Mobile World Congress (MWC), we demonstrated this little beauty running in an Android tablet,” Michael Rayfield, manager of Nvidia’s mobile sector wrote in a blog post. “We not only showed that it was alive. We showed it browsing the Web, running games and streaming amazing video. This wasn’t your average amazing video. It was [1,440-pixel] video content running on a 2560 by 1600 panel. That will enable mobile devices to output to the highest resolution monitors or tablets equipped with a 10.1-inch display with 300 DPI.”

The quad-core project is codenamed Kal-El. For all my kindred uber-geeks out there, Kal-El is the given name of Superman (also, of course, known as Clark Kent) from his parents on Krypton before the planet disintegrated. Nvidia obviously thinks it has a superchip on its hand to give it such a lofty code name.

“For the uninitiated, the entrance that I’m referring to was by none other than the next generation of our Tegra super chip,” Rayfield wrote.

Nvidia plans to rollout the first iteration of the quad-core seriesto partneres in August, which means there should be some tasty tablets getting cooked up for the holiday season, if original equipment manufacturers and software designers working with Android and iOS can figure out what to do with those four cores.

Nvidia claims that the first quad-core processor will have five times the computing power of its current dual-core Tegra 2 processors and Rayfield touts some pretty amazing capabilities as the quad-core roadmap unfolds. The company is making claims that the quad-core chips can out-perform Intel’s Core 2 processors, which dominate the PC market.

“It includes projects codenamed Wayne, Logan and Stark, coming out in a steady one-year cadence over the next three years,” Rayfield writes. “You might well ask, 'What on earth can be done with nearly 75x improvement in performance over Tegra 2 that Stark will provide in 2014?'”

Qualcomm, the biggest of the ARM chipmakers outside of Nvidia, has a quad-core processor coming – the Krait – as the next iteration in its Snapdragon line. If Nvidia and partners can deliver on the August promise, it looks like the Kal-El chip will make it to market first.

The question becomes: What to call it? The Tegra 2 is a dual-core processor. Does that inherently make the quad-core a Tegra 4?

Posted by Dan Rowinski on February 17, 2011 at 8:29 AM


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