Nvidia Kal-El Officially Dubbed Tegra 3, Claims "PC-Class" Performance

By Ryan Whitwam

Some of the Tegra 3 claims might be a little marketing-spin, but the demos show a powerful chip we can't wait to try.

Nvidia outed some of the technology behind the chip codenamed Kal-El a few weeks back, but today Kal-El has been revealed for what we knew it to be: Nvidia Tegra 3. This system-on-a-chip (SoC) is based on a quad-core Cortex-A9 design, with an additional A9 core for low-power processing at idle. What we didn’t know beforehand was just how well Tegra 3 was going to perform graphically.

Nvidia is pushing the Cortex-A9 to its limits, and making some big claims. Might this be the first ARM chip to come close to matching x86 parts?

Nvidia took every opportunity to refer to the performance of Tegra 3 as “PC-class.” They even went so far as to pit the new Tegra against an Intel Core 2 Duo T7200 in a bencmark. The numbers provided by Nvidia showed the ARM component beating the (admittedly older) desktop CPU.

Although, some have noticed that different code compilers were used in the two tests to make the Tegra look better. When the field of battle is leveled, the Core 2 wins out. Future versions of the Tegra that are clocked higher than the 1GHz chip demoed today may actually have a chance of beating a desktop CPU, though. Either way, this is the first ARM SoC to really be within striking distance of recent Intel parts.

Ignoring the numbers and benchmarks, Tegra 3 looks fantastic. Nvidia used a few existing Tegra-only games to show off the new effects possible with a quad-core chip and 12-core GPU. RipTide was improved with more detailed textures and motion blurring to enhance the feel of speed. The recent hit Shadowgun was also tweaked to take advantage of Tegra 3 with realistic water effects, and much improved textures. These already great games look even better on Tegra 3, but this might just mean a new generation of games restricted to Tegra 3.

We got technical details related to the Companion Core from the earlier Kal-El unveiling, but now we’ve got a better idea how it’s going to work in practice. According to Nvidia, Tegra 3 will allow a device like the Asus EeePad Transformer Prime to playback 1080p video for a whopping 12 hours. This is possible because that low-power Companion Core is capable of handling the playback all on its own. We had no idea it would be so capable.

The Nvidia Tegra 3 will start showing up in more tablets very soon, and phones are expected in early 2012. This SoC will likely be a leading choice for 3D devices, and high-end tablets until other quad-core parts hit the market in a few months.