Nvidia's renamed Tegra K1 SoC uses Denver and Kepler

Subject: General Tech | January 6, 2014 - 02:08 PM |
Tagged: tegra k1, tegra, SoC, nvidia, kepler, k1, cortex a15, CES, arm, A15

Project X Logan K1 is the first big news out of CES from NVIDIA and represents a bit of a change from what we were expecting.  The current belief was that the SoC would have four 28nm Cortex A15 processors but that will only be one flavour of K1, a Denver based dual core version will also be released.  Those ARMv8 64-bit processors will natively handle 64 bit applications while the A15 version that The Tech Report had taken pictures of will be limited to 32 bit applications, though that will not matter in many mobile applications.   You should also check out Ryan's deep dive into the new Denver and Kepler version here.

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"In early 2011, during a CES press event, Nvidia revealed its Project Denver CPU initiative. On Sunday evening, at another CES press conference, the company provided a glimpse of the first Denver-based processor: the Tegra K1. This next-generation SoC features dual Denver CPU cores clocked at up to 2.5GHz. The cores were designed by Nvidia, and they're compatible with the 64-bit ARMv8 instruction set. They have a seven-way superscalar pipeline and a hefty 192KB of L1 cache."

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Subject: Mobile
Manufacturer: NVIDIA

Once known as Logan, now known as K1

NVIDIA has bet big on Tegra.  Since the introduction of the SoC's first iteration, that much was clear.  With the industry push to mobile computing and the decreased importance of the classic PC design, developing and gaining traction with a mobile processor was not only an expansion of the company’s portfolio but a critical shift in the mindset of a graphics giant. 

The problem thus far is that while NVIDIA continues to enjoy success in the markets of workstation and consumer discrete graphics, the Tegra line of silicon-on-chip processors has faltered.  Design wins have been tough to come by. Other companies with feet already firmly planted on this side of the hardware fence continue to innovate and seal deals with customers.  Qualcomm is the dominant player for mobile processors with Samsung, MediaTek, and others all fighting for the same customers NVIDIA needs.  While press conferences and releases have been all smiles and sunshine since day one, the truth is that Tegra hasn’t grown at the rate NVIDIA had hoped.

Solid products based on NVIDIA Tegra processors have been released.  The first Google Nexus 7 used the Tegra 3 processor, and was considered the best Android tablet on the market by most, until it was succeeded by the 2013 iteration of the Nexus 7 this year.  Tegra 4 slipped backwards, though – the NVIDIA SHIELD mobile gaming device was the answer for a company eager to show the market they built compelling and relevant hardware.  It has only partially succeeded in that task.

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With today’s announcement of the Tegra K1, previously known as Logan or Tegra 5, NVIDIA hopes to once again spark a fire under partners and developers, showing them that NVIDIA’s dominance in the graphics fields of the PC has clear benefits to the mobile segment as well.  During a meeting with NVIDIA about Tegra K1, Dan Vivoli, Senior VP of marketing and a 16 year employee, equated the release of the K1 to the original GeForce GPU.  That is a lofty ambition and puts of a lot pressure on the entire Tegra team, not to mention the K1 product itself, to live up to.

Tegra K1 Overview

What we previously knew as Logan or Tegra 5 (and actually it was called Tegra 5 until just a couple of days ago), is now being released as the Tegra K1.  The ‘K’ designation indicated the graphics architecture that powers the SoC, in this case Kepler.  Also, it’s the first one.  So, K1.

The processor of the Tegra K1 look very familiar and include four ARM Cortex-A15 “r3” cores and 2MB of L2 cache with a fifth A15 core used for lower power situations.  This 4+1 design is the same that was introduced with the Tegra 4 processor last year and allows NVIDIA to implement a style of “big.LITTLE” design that is unique.  Some slight modifications to the cores are included with Tegra K1 that improve performance and efficiency, but not by much – the main CPU is very similar to the Tegra 4.

NVIDIA also unveiled late last night that another version of the Tegra K1 that replaces the quad A15 cores with two of the company's custom designs Denver CPU cores.  Project Denver, announced in early 2011, is NVIDIA's attempt at building its own core design based on the ARMv8 64-bit ISA.  This puts this iteration of Tegra K1 on the same level as Apple's A7 and Qualcomm's Krait processors.  When these are finally available in the wild it will be incredibly intriguing to see how well NVIDIA's architects did in the first true CPU design from the GPU giant.

Continue reading about NVIDIA's new Tegra K1 SoC with Kepler-based graphics!

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