NVIDIA Reveals Kal-El's Fifth "Companion" CPU Core

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News Posted: Tue, Sep 20 2011 7:23 PM

Over the past seven months or so, NVIDIA has revealed a number of details regarding its upcoming mobile wonder-chip, codenamed Kal-El. According to information provided by NVIDIA dating all the way back to February, Kal-El was to be the world’s first mobile quad-core SoC, sporting an integrated 12-core GeForce GPU, with support for resolutions up to 2560x1600, and performance that’s roughly 5x that of the current Tegra 2.

News out of NVIDIA today, however, reveals that Kal-El actually has 5 CPU cores, four high-performance cores for general processing duties a low-power “companion” core that’ll only be used for background tasks, active standby, and for some music and video playback. NVIDIA is calling this approach Variable Symmetric Multiprocessing, or vSMP.

Kal-El's Low-Power Companion Core

Our next-generation Tegra processor, codenamed “Project Kal-El,” is widely known as the world’s first quad-core mobile chip. Today, we’re unveiling Kal-El’s little-known fifth core in two new whitepapers that detail its “Variable SMP” architecture.” said NVIDIA’s Matt Wuebbling on a blog post on the company’s website. “This extra core – which we call the “companion core” – runs at a lower frequency and operates at exceptionally low power. 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.”

Core Management, Based On Workload

According to the white papers, the “Companion” core is completely OS transparent, which means the OS and applications are not aware of the core, but they are able to take advantage of it, automatically. Being able to transparently switch between the high-performance cores and low-power Companion core should result in significant power savings. The Companion core uses specialized, low-power transistors that operate at lower frequencies than the high-performance standard cores. However, all five of the cores employ the same ARM Cortex A9 CPU cores. The Companion core is said to operate between 0Mhz (gated, off) and 500MHz, while the performance optimized cores can operate between 0MHz (gated, off) and the SoC’s maximum GHz rating.

NVIDIA’s vSMP technology manages the workload distribution between the Companion and main cores based on the OS and application requirements. The actual management is handled by Kal-El’s Dynamic Voltage and Frequency Scaling (DVFS) feature and CPU Hot-Plug management software and does not require any modifications to the operating system.

(source: NVIDIA)

According to numbers released by NVIDIA, Kal-El’s unique CPU core configuration and transistor mix give it some marked advantages over competing offerings, both in terms of power and performance. The chart above (provided by NVIDIA) illustrates what we’re referring to—Kal-El is not only the lowest power solution when clocks don’t surpass 1GHz, but its performance is almost double that of current dual-core SoCs, even though Kal-El has twice of the number of CPU cores.

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RTietjens replied on Tue, Sep 20 2011 7:38 PM

But is it a weighted Companion Core?

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realneil replied on Tue, Sep 20 2011 7:47 PM

It's not hard to get to the 'core' of this write up. Smile

It looks to be a good feature though.

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"Thats some good stuff, people who need more raw power in tablets will now have a reason to invest into one. Also more efficiency. This will definitely breath new life into non Apple tablets and a great support for WIN 8. "

"I wonder if Nvidia is paying DC Comics for the rights to use Kal El?"

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Can't wait to see it in action. It's hipe until it's in the real world, and put to real world tests.

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rapid1 replied on Tue, Sep 20 2011 9:17 PM

I would imagine not RT as it runs separate and unidentified by the OS having it's own internal operating cues from what it sounds like. That separate core is much the same as the core set up on the camera "tri" core we saw a review on a while ago on here. Whereas that was called a tricore prosessor there were 4 cores where this is a 4 core with a 5th core that is seperate and operates on it's own. It seems to be a great strategy as a lot of what a smart phone does, and in fact the largest amount of many of there powered on operations are nothing. Even though they are doing nothing currently everything is running basically at full speed even though unstrained/non operational the difference in power usage for that and minimal operation per core is pretty much the same. This is much of the reason battery life on many if not most smart phones is not all that good because it is unoptimized currently.

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rrplay replied on Tue, Sep 20 2011 9:41 PM


It's not hard to get to the 'core' of this write up. Smile
It looks to be a good feature though.

Yep I think so too !  looky here Smile


A little bit dated [4core] but easy to notice and should be working really well at time of release

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omegadraco replied on Tue, Sep 20 2011 10:12 PM

The numbers are impressive less power use and about twice the power of a similarly clocked processor. (looking at the 1Ghz chips)

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AKwyn replied on Wed, Sep 21 2011 2:56 AM

It's looking like Kal-El is going to be NVIDIA's savior when it comes to it's Terga brand, as in the brand that is not avaliable in many cell phones despite it's advantages.

I mean four-cores with a low power one for background tasks? That has at least gotta help out with the power consumption, which is essential in phones after all. And the way it manages the performance, that means that people don't have to worry because the chip automatically manages how many cores are used for each program; and the gamers who all have a PSP or a Nintendo DS on their side will certainly appreciate the graphical and computational power this CPU provides. Hell, all of that is like a winning formula for NVIDIA really.

I cannot wait to see how it performs.


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rrplay replied on Wed, Sep 21 2011 8:47 AM

What really pretty amazing is when all the cores are utilized .just check out the dynamic lighting in the game-play vid ..no wonder the tablets get so much use in the 'reading room' ...anyhow having the companion core is definitely going to be the boon for extended battery life . almost like a smart cores.

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There are a lot of good comments already so I'll just say this is a great idea and I can't wait to see it in real world devices. I want to see that power saving core at work. I hope there isn't any lag when switching to a more intensive app/task. I read that the Transformer 2 is going to be the first to ship with this bad boy, has anyone else heard?

@Taylor the Tegra brand is booming right now. There are a few high volume phones using the Tegra2 right now and most android tablets are running it, and after reading this I'm sure a lot more will run Kal-El.

@rrplay I remember that vid from a while ago, it got me excited then and even more exciting after reading about the power saving possibilities of this chip.

Now you're just mashing it!

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Chondro replied on Wed, Sep 21 2011 12:08 PM

i was going to order a new gaiming laptop........

ill be waiting now

sounds awesome

but....they have made others sound better than they were

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jonation replied on Wed, Sep 21 2011 12:14 PM

Yes haha

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Joel H replied on Tue, Sep 27 2011 5:13 PM

Kal-El has nothing to do with a gaming laptop. This is a tablet CPU. It's not going to be powering any laptops, or even netbooks.

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