2011-09-20 12h11_43
Last Updated: November 8th, 2011

We've been talking about NVIDIA's Project Kal-El, aka Tegra 3, for a few months now, and the company has released some official whitepapers on the architecture and core benefits of the new chip. After reading through the documentation, I am left with but one thought: this processor is going to slaughter everything currently on the market.

It's more than just two additional cores

One common misconception about new quad-core devices is that they're only adding two more cores. That's not entirely true, as the processor architecture as a whole has changed, adding increased performance and a reduced power footprint for each core.

This is even more of a misconception with Kal-El, as there is actually a fifth core, called the "Companion core." It uses the exact same architecture as the four main cores in Kal-El, but utilizes a lower power silicon for less processor-intense activities, such as active standby, music playback, and video playback.

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The Companion core, which runs at speeds of up to 500MHz, is automatically utilized on-demand, while remaining completely transparent to the operating system. The transition from core-to-core is handled mostly on the hardware level, and as processing demand increases, the Companion core is disabled and each of the main cores are activated as needed.

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Once the processing demand has reached a point beyond which the Companion core is built to handle and the main cores take over, the CPU Governor will dynamically enable and disable the appropriate amount of core utilization depending on workload.

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This method of CPU management is called Variable Symmetric Multiprocessing. It offers both performance and power efficiency optimizations over other methods, giving the Tegra III higher performance while consuming less power.

It's faster and more efficient

The main benefit of Kal-El is its new processor management -- but what does this mean in the real world? More play time and less wait time.

The web browsing experience of Kal-El is a huge step above what we currently experience on dual-core devices, and will be more akin to browsing on a desktop computer. Modern desktop browsers such as Chrome and Firefox are built to utilize multiple cores on a computer, creating a much smoother, faster experience. Kal-El replicates this feature, allowing multiple web scripts be to spread across the four cores, delivering a much more streamlined experience for the end user.

Thanks to the added cores, improved architecture, and advanced CPU governing, Kal-El will even offer a wider variety of tasks that can be accomplished using a tablet. In other words, it will be even easier to replace your laptop, as quad-core tablets will be able to handle more strenuous tasks like video editing, image processing, physics simulations, file compression, and audio/video processing.

Of course, the additional horsepower isn't just going to help us be more productive -- it's going to allow for more visually intense gaming, as well. Kal-El doesn't just bring a more cores to the processing unit, but a substantial boost to the graphics processing capabilities, allowing for a higher quality gaming experience (remember Glow Ball? -- perfect example).


This was really a brief overview of all the amazing things that Kal-El has to offer. If you really want to get your hands dirty, I highly suggest checking out NVIDIA's whitepapers on the matter -- they are both chock-full of in-depth details, benchmarks, and all of that other info that us geeks want to fill our minds with.

PS - I'm officially excited.

Cameron Summerson
Cameron is a self-made geek, Android enthusiast, horror movie fanatic, musician, and cyclist. When he's not pounding keys here at AP, you can find him spending time with his wife and kids, plucking away on the 6-string, spinning on the streets, or watching The Texas Chainsaw Massacre on repeat.

  • Hotmann

    Whenever I read "companion core" my mind thinks "companion cube"...

    • Daniel

      LOL I thought the same thing too. Now I want to play Portal again.

  • David McDaniel

    Pair this with a Wolfson DAC, dedicated mini HDMI out (not MHL) and I'm sold!

  • L boogie

    If this is powering the transformer 2 as well as future tablets/smartphones, I'm pre-ordering asap.... Now I hope developers are working hard on creating apps that would utilize the quad-cores' full potential plus with the coming of ICS, creates a win-win scenario for android.

  • Darkseider

    As it stands now my Transformer w/ keyboard dock, rooted and OC'd to 1.4 Ghz has fully replaced my laptop and netbook for everyday use. With this coming in the Transformer 2 I can only imagine what more I will be able to do. As it stands, gaming, office work, RDP, SSH, VPN, web browsing and email all work wonderfully on the current Tegra 2. Soon the x86 will truly die off especially with the impending release of Windows 8 on ARM to complement the already excellent line up of Android, Linux on ARM and even iOS 5.

  • Telanis

    I wonder how hard it will be to hack it so that you can run all 5 cores at once :P

  • Luckbuckets

    this causes such a mixed bag off emotions, i wish the chip would be ready for the Galaxy Nexus Prime 3 (what ever the real name is) but it wont be. still getting it but one could dream

  • B_TX

    5 cores on 1.6Ghz will look much nicer! :D come on! Just port Blender on Android

  • Mat

    If only battery development was going as fast... Phones, computers and even cars now have a need for much better batteries... What's the hold up? Someone call Tony Starks already lol

  • Shane

    This method of CPU management is called Variable Symmetric Multiprocessing. It offers both performance and power efficiency optimizations over other methods, giving the Tegra II higher performance while consuming less power.

    Did you mean Tegra II or III Cameron?

    • Cameron Summerson

      3. Fixed.