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NVIDIA Tegra K1 - Kepler meets ARM, Project Denver Surfaces

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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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The focus on the Tegra K1 will be on the GPU, now powered by NVIDIA’s Kepler architecture.  The K1 features 192 CUDA cores with a very similar design to a single SMX on today’s GeForce GTX 700-series graphics cards.  This includes OpenGL ES3.0 support but much more importantly, OpenGL 4.4 and DirectX 11 integration.  The ambition of bringing modern, quality PC gaming to mobile devices is going to be closer than you ever thought possible with this product and the demos I have seen running on reference designs are enough to leave your jaw on the floor.

The camera and ISP (image signal processor) have been updated on Tegra K1 to Chimera 2.  The dual controller setup supports a total throughput of 1.2 Gigapixels and a 100MP sensor capability.  Display capability of the SoC will scale up to 4K panels and 4K HDMI (1.4a only, though) so the possibility exists to see K1 in high-DPI designs.

January 6, 2014 | 10:10 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Well with Nvidia GPU joining their previously separate GPU technology between mobile ad the desktop, and entering the exclusive Top Tier ARM ISA custom design club, with Apple and others, it should not be to difficult to estimate what Maxwell will bring to the table. This merging the desktop GPU with some on die CPU cores, and maybe a large on die RAM, should begin the move towards less reliance on the moatherboard CPU. Gaming engines and other latency/bandwith constrained code will now run, and hopefully reside in a large on die RAM, to reduce these latency/bandwith issues between gaming engine code and the GPU. This puts the relevance on the motherbard CPU into question, with repect to descrete GPUs possessing their own complete gaming system ability.

January 6, 2014 | 11:06 AM - Posted by Angry

I don't think you'll be seeing the x86 CPU going the way to the dodo bird anytime soon....at least not for awhile.

January 6, 2014 | 12:27 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

For sure x86 will never completely go away, AMD will be doing the very same thing with its own ARM based APUs as Nvidia's K1, but AMD will also be taking the x86 ISA on board with the descrete GPUs for some CPU/GPU accelerated complete gaming platform capable descrete GPUs, via AMD's already deveoped for the gaming consoles x86 based technology! Both Nvidia's descrete Maxwell GPUs and AMD's future descrete GPUs will merge the CPU with the GPU, and by themselves, become complete gaming platforms on a PCI card.

January 6, 2014 | 11:42 AM - Posted by Willmore (not verified)

In the paragraph at the end of the page on GPU-Specifications, you misuse V where you mean W.

January 6, 2014 | 01:01 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Shield 2 or 3

January 6, 2014 | 01:28 PM - Posted by aparsh335i (not verified)

I feel like this could make for a perfect Steam OS box.

January 6, 2014 | 05:13 PM - Posted by Scott Michaud

SteamOS is developed for x86(-64) and its games will be, too. It could be a good FirefoxOS console (or whatever).

January 6, 2014 | 02:04 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Can`t wait !

January 6, 2014 | 02:05 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Tegra 4 repeat ?

Samsung & Qualcomm already announced their 64bit chips will be coming out for the new Phone/Tablet season last month. Both have already been leaked to be in phones already by Spring.

Unless Nvidia sells K1 32bit cheap to make it attractive I don't see how it can gain traction much like Tegra 4 was overpriced and its modem wasn't certified so it was a no go for phones or tablets that used cell service.

January 6, 2014 | 04:23 PM - Posted by aparsh335i (not verified)

Did you read the article at all? Any of it? These new SoCs will have powerful graphics embedded, and it seems that the graphics are powerful enough to be on par with PS3/Xbox 360. Potentially this could lead to being on par with the Xbox 1 & PS4 within a few years. Now that is exciting.

January 6, 2014 | 04:56 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Cant believe you never mentioned once Tegra K1 will lack native on-chip support for LTE.

January 6, 2014 | 10:16 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Its also doesn't support CDMA.

So it won't work on Verizon nor Sprint networks in the U.S.

January 6, 2014 | 05:29 PM - Posted by fury (not verified)

This is pretty compelling stuff. As you say, it all depends on if they get any design wins. But for my 2 cents, I'd probably buy a phone or tablet with the Tegra K1, assuming it comes out before it gets leapfrogged by the next Adreno or Apple A8.

PCI Express capability is interesting. Does that mean this chip could potentially run Thunderbolt? Might do interesting things for accessory connectivity.

I like the comparison in raw compute power with last gen consoles. At the rate things are going, we're going to catch up with current gen consoles before next gen consoles come out.

One of the other big things stopping developers from coming out with real, true-to-life console quality games for mobile chips is the lack of a standard controller. Bluetooth HID controllers, you can have a very different set of buttons on each one, so there is a barrier to entry--both to the developer who would have to try and make their game configurable enough that a wide variety of controllers is usable, and to the user who has to go and do that setup and may end up failing to get a good, workable configuration. Consoles have a single defined set of buttons, a single set of hardware, and that means the developer knows exactly what to design for.

So, even if Tegra K1 takes off, we may still have yet to see a lot of heavy hitting games put onto mobile platforms, unless someone comes along and makes a big push for a single controller definition. Apple, as a matter of fact, did this for iOS, so maybe that style of controller will become the controller for iOS, and spill over into the rest of the world, so that maybe there's one big one that all the game developers design for, and the rest of the controllers can either follow suit or fall behind.

January 6, 2014 | 10:43 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

The rumor mill is already placing the Apple A8 in some sort of sub-macbook air form factor with a full keyboard and running OS X and iOS. I'm looking for a poor man's version of those expensive professional graphics tablets, running the Nvidia K1 Denver cores, with at least a 10-12 inch HD screen, and running Linux Mint, for my Gimp graphics and Light Blender 3d mesh modeling. I wish Nvidia could have done some HI polygon mesh modeling demos on the K1, that they had with with the A15 Cortex cores! Full OpenGL should work with Blender and Gimp, as well as other OpenSource software.

January 8, 2014 | 05:36 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Can`t wait...AWESOME...thanks PCPER for the info.

April 19, 2014 | 11:46 AM - Posted by Rolland (not verified)

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January 12, 2014 | 11:33 AM - Posted by Kingofkats

This is such a remarkable advance that I can't wait to see K1-powered hardware hit the market. There was a rumor last week that Microsoft's next Windows RT tablet (presumably the Surface III) will be built around the Tegra K1. Has there been any confirmation of this?

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