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NVIDIA Unveils Latest Series of Mobile Chips

The new Tegra K1 packs as much power as a PlayStation 3, but consumes fewer watts.

By Vlad Andrici for
NVIDIA Unveils Latest Series of Mobile Chips
Credit: @Cinquetacche via Twitter

The 2014 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) recently opened its doors to the press, and as it happens each and every year, numerous companies have been present at the event in an attempt to win the crowd over with their newest products. NVIDIA is one of these companies, and the graphics chip maker has definitely managed to turn some heads.

You may recall that about a year ago, NVIDIA was unveiling the newest Tegra 4 and 4i mobile processors. Much like last year, at this year’s CES, NVIDIA lifted the veil on its latest series of mobile chips, called the Tegra K1. Now, we know what you may be wondering: the Tegra 4 hasn’t really been as popular as the latest Snapdragon Qualcomm series, so can the GPU manufacturer turn the tables? The Tegra 4 SoC has mostly been used on a handful of tablets, a couple of smartphones and the Wacom Cintiq Companion Hybrid tablet. Meanwhile, the Tegra 4i is almost nowhere to be found.

But, given the current situation and following the CES announcement, we’d say that NVIDIA will definitely manage to impress with its upcoming Tegra K1 SoC. Let’s take a look at what this piece of silicon has to offer.

NVIDIA Introduces the New Tegra K1 Chip

NVIDIA is well known for its ability to create powerful graphics processing units, and all the previous Tegra chips have been praised for their ability to handle graphically-intensive tasks. With that in mind, the fact that the new Tegra K1 SoC focuses a lot on the eye-candy department doesn’t come as a surprise. But, what actually is surprising is just how powerful this new chip is.

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In a nutshell, the new Tegra K1 chip is a quad-core Cortex A15 CPU running on a 32-bit ARMv7 instruction set, clocked at a frequency of up to 2.3 GHz. It’s nothing too out of the ordinary – that is, until you learn that the CPU is bundled with a 192-core GPU.

The fact that the new GPU delivers 120 more cores than the Tegra 4 is impressive enough, but there’s much more to it than meets the eye. To begin with, all 192 cores in the new Kepler graphics chip take advantage of Compute Unified Device Architecture (CUDA). Generally speaking, CUDA technology allows a certain amount of CPU load to be transferred over to the GPU. That’s exactly what the K1 chip is capable of doing, and the Kepler GPU can actually do some of the lifting for the quad-core CPU.

In addition, NVIDIA has also managed to widen the memory width of the K1 chip to 40 bits, in order to avoid the 4GB limit of RAM. This allows the Tegra K1 to be paired up with up to 8 GB of RAM, while remaining a 32-bit processor at its core.

All that being said, the big question is just how powerful this SoC is in a real-world scenario. the developer actually claims that the Tegra K1′s power is up to par with a PlayStation 3, while operating at a much lower power consumption (around 5 watts). As a matter of fact, NVIDIA has teamed up with Epic Games in order to showcase the capabilities of the new K1 chip. Both companies have created and published a new video on YouTube, demonstrating the raw power of the new SoC by running the full-fledged Unreal Engine 4 on it. The Unreal Engine 4 is the latest graphical engine that is expected to be used in a wide range of upcoming PlayStation 4 games.

The Tegra K1 is expected to be released in Q2 2014, and judging by its specifications, chances are that the SoC will be fitted on high-end tablets first and foremost.

NVIDIA Denver – The 64-bit Tegra K1 Spin-off

As mentioned above, the Tegra K1 processor runs on a 32-bit architecture. This may disappoint some gadget enthusiasts who get excited about higher numbers. But, the good news is that NVIDIA plans on launching the K1 chipset in two different variants.

During CES, the GPU maker has actually revealed that the 32-bit Tegra K1 will be followed by a 64-bit variant dubbed “Denver,” which will hit the market sometime during the second half of the year.

Much like the 32-bit model, the Denver processor will take advantage of the same 192-core Kepler graphics chip. But, unlike the 32-bit processor, the Denver will feature only two cores which will run at a frequency of up to 2.5 GHz (as opposed to 2.3 GHz). However, while the Cortex A15 quad-core chip is only 3 instructions wide, the Denver will be 7 instructions wide. It will also deliver 128K/64K L1 cache, as opposed to 32K/32K L1 cache.

All in all, these new, upcoming chips sound and look impressive to say the least. We’ll have to wait and see just how popular they’ll become in the mobile niche, and how many devices will end up with a K1 under the hood. Any NVIDIA fans out there? Feel free to share your thoughts below.

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Vlad Andrici is editor for and writes about technology issues. Follow Vlad on Google Plus.