Nvidia shows tablet running quad-core Tegra chip

CEO Jen-Hsun Huang said Nvidia's Kal-El processor will be the first quad-core chip for tablets

Nvidia has shown a prototype tablet computer running a four-core version of its Tegra processor and said products based on the new chip will go on sale starting in September.

Speaking to reporters ahead of the Computex trade show in Taipei on Monday, Nvidia CEO Jen-Hsun Huang also announced that Nvidia will have shipped 10 million of its existing dual-core Tegra 2 processors by the end of June.

Best known for its graphics chips, Nvidia has emerged as a force in the market for ARM-based processors used in smartphones and tablets, where it competes with more established mobile chip vendors such as Qualcomm and Texas Instruments.

The dual-core Tegra 2 is used in the Samsung Galaxy Tab, the LG Optimus and the Acer Transformer, which has a snap-on keyboard for people who type too much to use only a touch screen.

Huang showed the quad-core chip, code-named Kal-El, running a prototype tablet built by Nvidia to demonstrate its capabilities. Tablets with Kal-El will go on sale in September, followed by smartphones later in the year, Huang said.

He didn't say which vendors would make the products but it seems likely they will come from existing Nvidia partners, who include Motorola, Dell, Sony and Asustek.

Huang said Kal-El will provide better graphics for gamers and for non-gamers, and run their existing applications with greater energy-efficiency, which should mean longer battery life.

"Kal El will do everything the Tegra 2 can do but at lower power," according to Huang.

Nvidia showed the chip running a game from MadFinger in which a ball illuminated from the inside rolls around a dark arena. Shadows cast by the ball were rendered in real time and at more than 30 frames per second, Huang said.

With all four cores in use, the tablet can run the game for four to six hours on a single charge, according to Huang.

Kal-El is a code-name and it's unclear if the final product will be called the Tegra 3. That could be tricky for Nvidia from a marketing perspective as it wants to emphasize that the chip has four cores.

Asked if Kal-El tablets will be more expensive than today's Tegra 2 tablets, Michael Rayfield, general manager of Nvidia's mobile business unit, said they will be offered at a "huge" range of prices.

Most Tegra-based tablets today run Google's Android operating system, but Nvidia is among the vendors working with Microsoft to bring the next version of Windows to Arm-based processors.

Kal-El will be the first four-core tablet chip on the market, according to Huang. His competitors aren't standing still, however. Qualcomm and Texas Instruments both have press conferences planned this week where they're expected to discuss new products.

Kal-El was announced at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in February. At the same show, Qualcomm announced an upcoming quad-core Snapdragon chip that it said will consume 65 percent less power than current ARM-based CPU cores. It hasn't said yet when that chip will go on sale.

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