Nvidia, Qualcomm Promise Quad-Core Mobile Chips

At the Mobile World Congress show, Nvidia and Qualcomm both unveiled planned quad-core mobile chips for smartphones and tablets.

Nvidia and Qualcomm are looking to bring quad-core processors to the mobile world.

Nvidia officials at the Mobile World Congress 2011 in Barcelona not only demonstrated the upcoming "Kal-El" chip, which couples the four computing cores with a new 12-core GeForce GPU, but also laid out a roadmap through 2014 that will offer almost 100 times the processing power of the current dual-core Tegra 2.

Nvidia's announcement came a day after the unveiling of "Krait," the next chip in the Snapdragon portfolio that officials said will offer speeds of up to 2.5GHz, one-, two- and four-core versions, and 150 percent more performance than current CPU cores based on designs from ARM Holdings. It also will offer up to 65 percent lower power, they said.

"Just as the original Snapdragon revolutionized smartphones with the first 1GHz processor, these new generations of Snapdragon will revolutionize the next wave of mobile entertainment and computing," Steve Mollenkopf, executive vice president and group president for Qualcomm, said in a statement.

The announcements come a year after Nvidia released its highly successful dual-core Tegra 2 chipset for mobile phones. Kal-El (Superman's name on his home planet of Krypton-future generations also will have super hero-related nicknames) and its four cores are aimed at a wide variety of handheld devices, as well as tablet PCs. The new chip will enable Web browsing two times faster than the current dual-core Tegra 2, with triple the graphics performance, according to the company.

At the MWC, Nvidia officials reportedly demonstrated the four-core Tegra chip powering a prototype tablet running Google's Android operating system. Among the tasks demonstrated by the tablet was a 1440p video content streamed on a 2560-x-1600 panel and played in real time. Another demo, showing off the capabilities of the 12-core GPU, was a scene of the computer game "Great Battles Medieval," which reportedly ran without a hitch.

In a blog post Feb. 15, Michael Rayfield, general manager of Nvidia's Mobile Business Unit, said customers are getting samples of the next-generation Tegra chip now, and that products containing the chip should start going into production by August.

Along with Kal-El, Nvidia officials also gave a glimpse of the company's Tegra roadmap, with future chips codenamed "Wayne," "Logan" and "Stark," coming out one per year over the next three years. It's Stark (from Ironman fame) that will offer up to 75 times improvement over the current Tegra 2, according to Rayfield.

"You might well ask, What on earth can be done with nearly 75x improvement in performance over Tegra 2 that Stark will provide in 2014?" he asked in his blog "Our customers and partners have already indicated that they're confident they can use everything we give them."

For Qualcomm, its Krait quad-core chipset-also announced at MWC-is expected to start appearing in products in early 2012. The lineup will include the single-core MSM8930, dual-core MSM8960 and quad-core APQ8064. They all will offer multiple connectivity options-WiFi, Bluetooth and FM-and support for NFC (near-field communication) and every major operating system and product, according to Qualcomm.

The portfolio will be coupled with the Adreno 320 quad-core GPU, which the company said will offer 15 times the performance original Adreno graphics chip. Qualcomm reportedly also has said the quad-core chip not only will have better performance, but also better battery life. Tasks will be split between the cores, which will enable better performance without impacting power consumption as much.

Samples of the dual-core MSM8960 will be available in the second quarter, according to Qualcomm, while samples of the single- and quad-core chips will head out in early 2012.