NVIDIA just showed me quad-core for mobile.


Kal-El is Superman's Kryptonian name ... the new chips will look nothing like this.

NVIDIA announced their Tegra roadmap for the next three years, starting with codename “Kal-El,” a quad-core chip with 12 GPUs they claim offers five times the performance of the dual-core Tegra 2s popping up in everything from Motorola’s Atrix 4G phone to Samsung’s new Galaxy Tab 10.1 tablet. The roadmap stretches out over the next three years with chips codenamed Wayne, Logan, and Stark that the company says will offer a staggering 100x the performance of Tegra 2 by sometime in 2014.

Kal-El is real, and was demo’d tonight to a group of media before hitting the show floor on Thursday morning. NVIDIA had some Android-based reference units to show us, and said that the first quad-core mobile devices will reach consumers this August. Expect quad-core tablets first, and then the phones.

So what can quad-core in a mobile device do? As much as you’d expect it to, in all honesty. And then some.

We saw a tablet playing back some super-high res 2560 x 1440 (1440p) video on a 2560 x 1600 display at a full 30 frames per second. While also showing the same content scaled down to fit its own 1366 x 768 screen. And it looked good. Really good. 2560 x 1600 is big enough for 1440p HD (one step beyond the current 1080p standard), and it also translates to a 10-inch “retina display” packed with 300 pixels per inch. Spec-wise that’s like an iPhone 4 quality screen that’s 10 inches big instead of Apple’s 3.5 inches.

That’s also like using your Motorola Atrix 4G-style device to send video to a giant television. At resolutions higher than any consumer Blu-Ray player can handle right now. From a phone. A phone!

We saw all four CPUs being used at the same time in a test based on rapidly loading consecutive Web pages. NVIDIA said that more and more Web browsers, games and apps are already taking advantage of multithreading, and that proper use of multiple CPUs can actually reduce power consumption (the idea being that four cores under half load demand less per than two cores bogged down under full load).

We saw benchmark tests showing the Kal-El reference system pretty much blowing every other mobile chip – including NVIDIA’s own Tegra 2 – out of the water.

And we saw some pretty sick gaming demos. There was this one game that we weren’t allowed to take pictures of. Which is too bad because it looked insane, visually. They also showed us a side-by-side demo of the same title running on Tegra 2 and in a Kal-El optimized form. The quad-core version boasted a frame rate 3x higher than the dual-core machine, netting around 60 fps vs 20 fps.

This stuff was seriously impressive in the demo room. What will it mean to consumers later this year? Honestly, I’m still waiting to find out what dual-core will really mean when it hits the streets a few weeks from now in Atrix, Xoom, and a handful of other devices. So who knows exactly how quad-core tablets and phones will change our computing lives come August? But they sure blew some doors off in a demo room tonight, that’s for sure.

Disclosure: During MWC I have been doing some blogging for the NVIDIA blog in exchange for sponsorship of my travel, accommodations and some additional compensation. In no way is my coverage of the show for TechnoBuffalo subject to approval by NVIDIA, or in any other way related to my work or relationship with them. I will be as honest as possible I always am in what I have to say about them and what they’re showing in Barcelona.