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Nvidia debuts its next generation mobile processor, the Tegra K1

Mark Hachman | Jan. 7, 2014
Many expected Nvidia to launch a next-generation Tegra 5 platform at the Consumer Electronics Show. Instead, Nvidia arguably went quite a bit farther.

Many expected Nvidia to launch a next-generation Tegra 5 platform at the Consumer Electronics Show. Instead, Nvidia arguably went quite a bit farther.

Nvidia announced the Nvidia K1, a mobile processor with 192 graphics cores, which chief executive Jen Hsun Huang positioned as a mobile game console. There will be a version of the chip with traditional 32-bit "4+1" ARM cores like Tegra 4, and even a version with a dual-core 64-bit "Denver" CPU, the ARM chip that Nvidia announced in 2011. There will even be a third option for cars.

A year ago, Nvidia launched "Project Shield," a handheld gaming device based on the Nvidia Tegra 4 mobile chip. Project Shield served both as a mobile game console that would compete with the PlayStation Vita, Android gaming tablets, and other portable gaming solutions, as well as a device to stream games from PCs powered by Nvidia GeForce hardware. Nvidia also launched GeForce Experience, a software application that automatically optimizes the settings of PC games to maximize their performance when running on Nvidia hardware, and Grid, a rack server that could process graphics-intensive applications and deliver them to clients.

Nvidia is working to build an ecosystem similar to those of Intel and AMD, with offerings that stretch from the embedded space on up to the server. According to Kevin Krewell, an analyst at Tirias Research, an important announcement was the "Denver"-based version of the K1, signaling that Nvidia has entered the ARM generation, following Apple.

The new Tegra chip is less about the number of cores than the total amount of graphics horsepower, Krewell said. "It's about the gigaflops," he said. "It's a lot of [graphics] power for an [embedded device]. It's also the first time they've brought their CUDA language to a mobile chip -- they've come out with guns blazing."

The legacy PC

Huang said that the GeForce chip and its new GameStream service now allows you to record and stream games and stream to services like Twitch, which allows 15 million spectators and more each month to watch others play. Huang demoed "Batman: Arkahm Origins" streaming on a Project Shield machine, using a GeForce-based Grid as the original rendering engine. From there, the game was streaming to the Internet. The kicker? It was streaming from France, Huang said.

"For it to be completely interactive, and because we can notice anything higher than 200 ms of latency, consider how little time that takes on the back end to go through all of the graphics processing."

Frame rates in games tend to stutter and lag, with GPU-intensive explosions and actions from multiple players making it difficult to maintain the 60-hertz frame rate that's a legacy of traditional monitors. The challenge for Nvidia was to make the game smooth in a way that was governed by the GPU, not the monitor. Traditional monitor V-sync (vertical synchronization) results in judders as the screen as sampled again. Solutions include double and triple buffering, which adds latency to the system, or disabling v-sync, which can lead to visual artifacts like "tearing." 


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