One of the biggest announcements of CES 2014 was not a single device, but a chip - the Nvidia Tegra K1
. A huge step up in mobile graphics, the Tegra K1 is the first chip with a desktop-class Kepler GPU with 192 CUDA cores (not to be mistaken with CPU cores). The K1 will come in two stages - first, a quad-core Cortex A15 configuration is set on arriving in the first half of the year, and then, a dual-core custom Nvidia 64-bit Denver core setup should start shipping in the second half of 2014.
How much of an improvement does it really make to mobile graphics, though? Nvidia brought a brand new Tegra K1 Reference Tablet to show how well its platform performs.
Tegra K1 Reference Tablet Specs
The Nvidia Tegra K1 Reference Tablet is a compact seven incher that looks a lot like the Tegra Note 7 reference design Nvidia demonstrated earlier, in 2013. It’s indeed based on the Note 7 chassis on the outside, but under the hood it’s much improved. The reference design tablet is a hint for device manufacturers about which way they can go when making their own products, but it does not dictate design choices, so actual devices with the K1 can and probably will look different.
In terms of hardware, though, the spec sheet of the reference tablet could well be copied by device makers that choose to use the Tegra K1. We’re talking about a high-res 7-inch 1920 x 1200-pixel
display (the Nexus 7 2013 features the same resolution), and under the hood - the Tegra K1 chip with 4GB of RAM in the reference tablet. That’s definitely a high-end configuration, one that geeks would fall in love with.
Tegra K1 Reference Tablet
We already mentioned that the first wave of Tegra K1 tablets will feature a quad-core Cortex A15 chip. We have also already seen quad-core A15 on devices like the Nexus 10, and we know the peaks and limits of ARM's cores, so it’s not really CPU boosts that we’re looking forward to with the first wave of K1 tablets. Instead, it’s all about the Kepler graphics.
The Kepler GPU uses a desktop-class Nvidia design with a huge number of 192 CUDA cores allowing quick rendering of highly parallel instructions. Let us once again say that it would not be correct to call the K1 a “192-core chip” since these are small GPU cores and not CPU cores. Still, it’s a hugely impressive design for graphics. Nvidia showed a slide saying Kepler in the K1 is actually the point where its roadmap for desktop and mobile converges, hence it’s completely justified to speak about this as a 'desktop-class' GPU.
Another slide Nvidia showed puts this performance in context. The Tegra K1 outperforms the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 at 20 times lower power budget - 5 watts for the K1 against nearly 100 watts for the consoles. At that 5 watt load, the K1 managed to score 365 peak GFLOPS, nearly double the PlayStation 3 score.
We need to go no further than the ‘Ira’ facial render demo showing how the Tegra K1 can display a very realistic human head with all its tiny details and human-like expressions. Current technology is simply not capable of delivering such level of detail. We’re yet to see how Nvidia manages heating, but we have all reasons to believe that this time around it has a winner with its new chip. Take a look at our Tegra K1 Reference Tablet hands-on video and images right below to see for yourselves.
Nvidia Tegra reference design tablet hands-on demo
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