Nvidia releases Kal-El benchmark results

Nvidia's announcement that its upcoming third-generation Tegra chip, codenamed 'Project Kal-El,' would be a five-core part came with some interesting power-versus-performance comparisons, but a second whitepaper released by the company draws a clearer picture of the overall speed boost users can expect from the part.

While the fifth core, dubbed a 'Companion Core' by Nvidia's engineers, helps keep idle power draw down to a minimum, it has no real effect on peak performance. Instead, the chip powers down the fifth core and concentrates entirely on the four main Cortex-A9 cores.

According to Nvidia's internal testing, that doesn't hobble the processor. In both synthetic and real-world benchmarks, the Kal-El processor is shown to improve performance by between 50 and 100 per cent over existing dual-core chips, including Nvidia's own Tegra 2 processor.

Using the popular CoreMark benchmarking package, Nvidia has been able to show a doubling of synthetic performance over its competitors. As the graph shows, the Kal-El chip beats out the Tegra 2, Qualcomm's QCOM 8860, Texas Instruments' OMAP4430, and - in a surprise addition to the test - Apple's A5 chip from the iPad 2, which sits firmly at the bottom of the leaderboard.


Another graph from Nvidia's whitepaper, which attempts to convince OEMs that the move from dual-core to quad-core processing is well worth the effort and cost, demonstrates a speedup of around 150 per cent when the chip runs the popular Linpack bechmark in quad-core mode compared to dual-core mode.

For real-world results, Nvidia has brought out the big guns: media and gaming. Tests performed on a prototype Kal-El chip show the quad-core processor transcoding video in Handbrake at a rate of 29.8FPS, compared to just 18.8FPS with two cores disabled. Gaming performance is also boosted, with the Glowball tech demo jumping from 13FPS on the dual-core Tegra 2 to 35FPS on Kal-El, Lost Planet 2 jumping from 15FPS to 32FPS, and Da Vinci jumping from 13FPS to 30FPS.

While Nvidia's testing shows improvements in many applications, there still remains plenty of software which isn't optimised for multithreaded processing. The most power-hungry apps, however, are - and that includes games, as the company's results show. The figures are of course Nvidia's own and it will be interesting to see what third-party testers make of Kal-El as it comes up to launch later this year.

While much will hinge on the premium charged for the quad-core parts over its existing dual-core chips, these figures suggest that Nvidia could have a winner on its hands.

It isn't the only company working on quad-core parts, however: while Nvidia's patented vSMP technology - which enables the low-power fifth core to operate without modifications to the operating system - might be unique to Kal-El, much of the performance improvement the company is crowing about will apply equally to upcoming parts from the company's competitors.