Most of you are probably familiar with NVIDIA's Tegra line of system-on-a-chip boards - Tegra 2 was behind most of the first wave of Honeycomb tablets, Tegra 3 powered the Transformer Prime and Nexus 7, and there's this little thing called SHIELD with Tegra 4 coming next week. But their latest promotional efforts take the spotlight off of a fully integrated solution to focus on NVIDIA's bread and butter: the GPU.


PC gamers and designers know about Kepler, NVIDIA's line of 28 nanometer GPUs. In gaming terms, it covers most of the GeForce GTX 600 and 700 graphics cards. Today they're demonstrating a mobile version of Kepler, set to debut with their next generation of silicon under the Project Logan code name (continuing with NVIDIA's general superhero theme for mobile products). This isn't just a marketing tactic - according to the company's introductory literature, the mobile version of Kepler uses the same GPU architecture as the desktop, laptop, and workstation cards of the same name. If NVIDIA's naming convention holds, Logan will likely come to market as "Tegra 5."

To demonstrate this, NVIDIA has put up a couple of video demos. The "Ira" demo is perhaps the most dramatic. It's a mobile translation of a video demo given in March, demonstrating the visual performance of the GTX TITAN, the company's top-of-the-line desktop gaming card (which retails for about $1000 USD). Here's the older demo. Below you'll see the Ira facial rendering and animation demo given on a prototype Logan system with the Kepler mobile GPU.

The mobile version of Ira isn't quite as jaw-dropping as its desktop counterpart, but it's still easily the most impressive demonstration of its kind on mobile hardware. The real-time face simulation tries to hop right over the uncanny valley, using an incredibly detailed polygonal model, high-resolution textures, HDR lighting effects that work through multiple layers of simulated skin, and conventional graphics effects like FXAA, tone mapping, and bloom. Particular attention has been paid to sub-surface scattering, a shading system that simulates light passing through skin - note the ears. This version of the Ira face is running full HD (1920x1080) instead of 4K.

Of course, this sort of thing isn't likely to make it into a mobile game (or even a desktop game) for quite some time - system resources have to be dedicated to rendering the environment, other characters, physics and AI engines, et cetera. A more pertinent demonstration is NVIDIA's Island video, running on the same prototype Logan/Kepler mobile hardware. This one is focused on graphical tessellation, dynamically enhancing the polygonal models for the player's viewpoint. This allows a game or video to efficiently simulate more detail as the viewpoint shifts. Check out the water effects as well - very impressive, even when compared with the latest Tegra 4 games like Riptide GP 2.

When it comes to the technical side of things, NVIDIA is most proud of Mobile Kepler's power consumption. The demos above are running on mobile hardware drawing 2-3 watts for the GPU, compared with 250 watts for their TITAN desktop counterparts. According to NVIDIA, their new GPU is consuming less than a third of the power of the GPU in the Retina iPad.

Developers will be glad to know that Mobile Kepler supports the new OpenGL 4.4 API, as well as OpenGL ES 3.0 and DirectX 11. It also supports CUDA, NVIDIA's parallel computing standard, which allows for parallel processing with CPUs for more efficient graphics and physics calculations (along with more general computational processes and "big data" distributed projects). NVIDIA's blog post also highlighted Kepler's anti-aliasing and post-processing capabilities, along with motion blur, depth of field, and global illumination effects. Outside of graphics, Kepler can be implemented for augmented reality, speech recognition, and general imaging.

NVIDIA is currently demonstrating prototype hardware at the SIGGRAPH conference in Anaheim. Kepler GPUs and Logan SoCs have only just entered the testing phase at NVIDIA, and their last roadmap indicated that they'd be coming to finished mobile hardware sometime in 2014.

Source: NVIDIA Blog

Jeremiah Rice
Jeremiah is a US-based blogger who bought a Nexus One the day it came out and never looked back. In his spare time he watches Star Trek, cooks eggs, and completely fails to write novels.
  • mechapathy

    He looks confused.

  • Alex Flynn

    nVidia's new stuff always impresses me, but when it gets to market and is benchmarked its a little disappointing. And it means there will be a new wave of Tegra specific apps/games, which is bullshit.

    If these apps used CUDA on the other hand, that would be understandable

    • http://androidandme.com/ Taylor Wimberly

      Project Logan supports CUDA...

      • Alex Flynn

        Well, yes, that's why I mentioned it. The majority (or near enough) of gaming PCs support CUDA, and its still not really infiltrated the gaming scene

        • Barnassey

          How so? more than a few titles use cuda and physx but they simply dont crow about it.

    • Adrian Meredith

      you can't put this and tegra 3 in the same basket. Also tegra 2 was almost a year late, it was groundbreaking when it was introduced originally.

  • reStuff

    Typical Nvidia SoC. Shows of awesome demo with cool sounding technology. -> Sucks.

  • http://dabuxian.com/ Dabu

    At the end of the day Snapdragon with Adreno is always faster than Tegra. And much more open source too. Nice try, Nvidia, but I'm sticking with what even Google decided to use in N4 and the new N7.

  • M1lkm4n

    But can it run crysis?

    • Kokusho

      seems like it does actually.

    • Ivan Myring


    • renz

      it can run BF3 for sure :)

  • Kokusho

    That's what dreams are made of

  • Hans-Jörg Meyer

    Yeah, NVIDIA, you convinced me. I will skip the Tegra 4 and wait for this one.

  • Adrian Meredith

    This is the gpu we've been waiting for

  • Sean Lumly

    It's easy to get excited about a chip that's 1 year away, comparing it to end-of-life tech that's *just* about to be replaced by the next gen. In fact, this seems like a traditional Nvidia move and a strategic unveiling of this technology.

    All mobile chipset developers (tablet or phone) are respectively constrained by power, which is proportional to frequency, die size, and memory usage. That means that by the time that Mobile Kepler rolls around, other SoC vendors will have roughly the same power constraints placed on them and limited to roughly the same die-size and frequencies.

    The relative performance of the chipset depends largely on how efficiently it deals with computation and moving memory around. Many of the other chipsets use techniques like tiled deferred rendering, framebuffer compression, tile based binning, cache coherency, texture compression, etc, to achieve greater performance over just raw computation. However, Tegra chipsets (to my knowledge) have been historically somewhat sparse on these optimisations, and the performance shows. Tegra consistently under-performs its competition from year to year. Even the much-lauded Tegra 4 will likely be left behind by the Adreno 330 and the Mali 628MP6 if GFXBench is to believed. They should ship in similar time frames (within 2 months of each other).

    I wouldn't be surprised if Mobile Kepler follows in this trend. I'm not terribly convinced that with equal constraints, Mobile Kepler will pull ahead of the other players in terms of performance.

    I think that Mobile Kepler will be an impressive performer. Mobile chips continue to wow from year to year. I'm sure it will also run applications of its day quite well. But the comparisons seem somewhat disingenuous, and are hard to believe after 4-generations of let-downs. Of course, time will tell.

    • highflyingbull

      i think project logan is designed to be used in arm and android based laptops and desktops, not in phones and tablets like they advertised. "intel graphics" powervr is a proven winner for the last 10 years for devices that dont need a powerful gpu.

  • rollin

    the tegra itself is fragmented, between tegra 2 3 4.

    I used to have tegra 2 phone. In its glory day, I really enjoy playing games on it because it has better graphics & smoother fps.
    now whenever I see some tegra 3 or tegra 4 specific games, I always complain "why can't I play these games ? I use the same TEGRA chip for god sake! "

    since then I never bother to use tegra chip, Snapdragon + Adreno ftw..