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Nvidia's Kal-El Tegra Will Have Fifth "Companion Core" 98

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the phone-still-dies-before-five dept.
Blacklaw writes with an article in Thinq about the upcoming quad-core Tegra chipset. Quoting the article: "Nvidia has released a few technical details of its upcoming 'Kal-El' Tegra processor, including a secret it's done well to keep under its hat thus far: it's a five-core, not four-core, chip." The fifth core will be clocked lower and is intended to let the system use little power without having to fully suspend. A few years ago Openmoko had a vaguely similar idea to include a microcontroller for low-resource idle tasks (e.g. GPS logging), but this design is superior since it should be more or less transparent to user space programs.
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Nvidia's Kal-El Tegra Will Have Fifth "Companion Core"

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  • by Kid Zero (4866)

    I thought Supergirl was Superman's cousin.

    Oh, it's a chip. :)

    • by unixisc (2429386)
      In the 90's, AMD backed out of calling the K5 Kryptonite, fearing a clash w/ DC comics, but now nVidia has no issues calling their new chip Kal El?
  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Tuesday September 20, 2011 @04:40PM (#37460142) Journal
    I'm a "sidekick" core, not a "companion" core...
  • by demonbug (309515) on Tuesday September 20, 2011 @04:43PM (#37460184) Journal

    Or something about elephants...

  • by Anonymous Coward

    The Enrichment Center reminds you that the Companion Core cannot speak. In the event that the Companion Core does speak, the Enrichment Center urges you to disregard its advice.

  • I hope it has a small pink heart image on the sillicon.

  • A fraction of the speed, and only one core, they should have codenamed it Clark.
  • Hopefully Nvidia will deign to support h.264 High Profile this time. Sure, the Tegra2 can play back 1080p happily at unreasonably high bitrates (for something you'd watch on a phone), but only if you don't use weighted p/b frames or CABAC when encoding. Guess what the majority of video you'll find in h.264 uses? It's a real glaring omission.
    • by WilyCoder (736280)

      When I picked up a Xoom on the launch date, I was very disappointed to witness the lack of high profile support.

      They seem to have fixed it with the 3.1 update. However, I am refering to 720p content, no idea if 1080p high profile is supported yet. I'd wager a guess of 'no'

      Its very deceptive marketing for nVidia to claim they do 1080p playback...

      • by JDG1980 (2438906)
        If they included support for decoding all the content types permitted by the Blu-ray standard, this new chip might work very well for a low-power set top streamer. It would be strong enough to take the place of a HTPC, especially if XBMC could be made to run on it.
        • by EdZ (755139)
          For cheap streaming duties, the RaspberryPi looks pretty neat. Level 4.1 (yes, really!) HiP. Yep, it should be happy blu-ray without transcoding.
          • by JDG1980 (2438906)
            Yes, the Raspberry Pi could be an awesome streamer. I wonder if it will support HDMI 1.3 for TrueHD/DTS-HD bitstreaming? (There are already open-source implementations for these if the hardware supports it.)
  • I don't even have 4 cores in my main PC, what am I going to do with 4 cores on a phone? The companion core is an interesting idea to increase battery life. But I have the feeling that as soon as the 4 main cores kick in, I would be left with a dead battery and burns on my hands. I also wonder how smooth the transitions between the companion core and the main cores will be...
    • by BZ (40346)

      > what am I going to do with 4 cores on a phone?

      Use less power any time you have four parallel threads of execution than you would with a single core tying to run them all via timeslicing...

      Also, this may be targeted at tablets, not phones.

      • From what I read from the article, it looks like they turn on one core at a time, as needed. Also, their chart indicates significant power reductions too. I'm curious to see how it does when reviewers get their hands on it. I currently have a Tegra 2 phone (LG Optimus 2X), and with Cyanogenmod 7, I love it. This is my first smartphone, so the one thing I'm not happy about is having to charge my phone every day.
        • by eamonman (567383)

          Motorola Droid owner here. If I don't bring my charger to work, it will die at around 6-7 hours in, and that's with even nearly everything off (must be because I have nearly zero cell reception in my office). Annoying... I can't wait till my contract ends in a month or two so I can dump this slow, battery sucking thing asap. I expect these new multi core phones to at least run things faster, and hopefully save some power when they aren't running things.

          • Good luck with Verizon's new data limited contract pricing, I for one will be looking at smaller carriers with unlimited data plans when my contract ends. It's not that I use that much data, it's that I won't abide by paying more and getting less.
    • four ARM cores still uses less power than one intel Atom...

    • You might as well ask what you're going to do with an 8 core desktop PC running at 1.7 GHz when your 200 MHz P4 can already boil a cup of water. Power efficiency is about the only thing that increases even faster than performance. I'd be willing to bet you anything that this 4+1 core CPU uses less power and generates less heat than whatever processor is in your existing phone.

    • by jittles (1613415)
      You'd be surprised. My Dual core HTC Evo 3D has over twice the battery life of my single core Evo 4G. The battery is only 50% bigger.
    • by msauve (701917)
      "The companion core is an interesting idea to increase battery life."

      More likely, an idea to increase yields.

      1 Make 5 core chips
      2 When testing, take the core that fails at the lowest clock rate and make it the poor step-child.
      3 ???
      4 Profit by saying that under-performing core is a feature!

      Seriously, if this were about energy savings, why not just put a clock divisor on an existing core to produce savings?
      • "The companion core is an interesting idea to increase battery life."

        More likely, an idea to increase yields.

        1 Make 5 core chips

        2 When testing, take the core that fails at the lowest clock rate and make it the poor step-child.

        3 ???

        4 Profit by saying that under-performing core is a feature!

        Seriously, if this were about energy savings, why not just put a clock divisor on an existing core to produce savings?

        According to the TFA that 5th core isn't made the same as the other 4 cores. The 5th core is actually processed using a different process than what the other 4 use. It isn't physically the same core.

    • by edxwelch (600979)

      You have a good point. I suspect that most of the software won't be able to take advantage of the multi-cores.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 20, 2011 @04:58PM (#37460384)

    Nigel: ...the chips have five cores. Look...right across the board.
    Marty: Ahh...oh, I see....
    Nigel: five...five...five...
    Marty: ...and most of these chips go up to four....
    Nigel: Exactly.
    Marty: Does that mean it's...faster? Is it any faster?
    Nigel: Well, it's one faster, isn't it? It's not four. You see, most...most blokes, you know, will be running on four. You're on four here...all the way up...all the way up....
    Marty: Yeah....
    Nigel: ...all the way up. You're on four on your processes...where can you go from there? Where?
    Marty: I don't know....
    Nigel: Nowhere. Exactly. What we do is if we need that extra...push over the cliff...you know what we do?
    Marty: Put it up to five.
    Nigel: Five. Exactly. One faster.
    Marty: Why don't you just make four faster and make faster be the top number...and make that a little faster?
    Nigel: ...these have five.

  • by rsborg (111459) on Tuesday September 20, 2011 @05:03PM (#37460428) Homepage

    Obligatory:
    http://www.theonion.com/articles/fuck-everything-were-doing-five-blades,11056/ [theonion.com]

    Seriously, a low-performance core doing administrivia type work sounds great, but won't this require OS support? I can't imagine this detail is completely abstracted from the kernel.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I've been wanting something like this ever since Intel came out with the Atom. Why can't I have an i7 or whatever HTPC or home server that can run 24/7, listening to the input devices (including NIC) with the OS running on the Atom, then kick off the i7 core(s) whenever it needs them for more expensive processing?

      I think it would be relatively small changes to make the OS aware of deep power saving states that it should use on the fast cores, and a bit of power management tweaking to coax it into vacating t

    • by demonbug (309515)

      Obligatory:
      http://www.theonion.com/articles/fuck-everything-were-doing-five-blades,11056/ [theonion.com]

      Seriously, a low-performance core doing administrivia type work sounds great, but won't this require OS support? I can't imagine this detail is completely abstracted from the kernel.

      Anandtech [anandtech.com] also has an article up on this. From the sound of it this isn't really different from other multi-core processors that are able to power down or turn off individual cores. At low system demand, the CPU switches to the companion core and reports a single core available for task scheduling; if system demand is too high for the companion cube, er, core to handle the CPU switches to the main core(s). Sounds like a slight delay going from the companion to main (Anandtech quotes it at 2 ms), but as far

      • The difference is that this core is not like the others. Something like a Cortex A5 core can run the same userspace code as an A9 core, but in a much smaller power envelope (and much slower), both in terms of idle and full load. This means that you can turn off the the four fast cores and leave the slow one running. Userspace code doesn't notice, but your power is a lot lower than if you'd left one of the fast cores running. I don't know exactly what this core is, but something with a single in-order pi
    • Not really. By detecting the load, it could automatically decide which cores to activate. Since they're all the same architecture, the only difference should be execution speed. Maybe it only exposes 4 cores to the OS, and the companion core "shares" core 1's tasks. For example: While idle, companion core is active, running the network stack (for example). When the user does something: the companion core offloads its tasks to core 1 as soon as the load increases, or maybe core 4 as soon as cores 1-3 are sa
      • by Anonymous Coward

        "Either way, the OS only sees 4 cores."

        How many cores do you see?

        THERE ARE *FOUR* CORES!

    • by adisakp (705706)

      Seriously, a low-performance core doing administrivia type work sounds great, but won't this require OS support? I can't imagine this detail is completely abstracted from the kernel.

      Modern OS's can already use multiple cores (including non-power of 2 such as AMD 3-core CPUs) and already have the ability to suspend cores that are not in use. In fact the ACPI standard on all modern PC CPU's has supported this since 1996:

      From Wikipedia [wikipedia.org]

      C0 is the operating state.
      C1 (often known as Halt) is a state where the processor is not executing instructions, but can return to an executing state essentially instantaneously. All ACPI-conformant processors must support this power state. Some proces

  • by markhahn (122033) on Tuesday September 20, 2011 @05:07PM (#37460464)

    even the "dual-core" tegra2 had a companion core. it's hard to say that this extra management core is a real core, since it's not a peer of the others in, for instance, cache-coherency.

    still, sure, asymmetric cores are a nice way to take further advantage of extreme variance in load. even after you've downclocked a normal core as far as it can go, a "designed for slow" core is going to dissipate less power. I'm not sure why supporting this kind of asymmetry would be all that hard for the linux kernel, though.

    • by cookd (72933)

      This is also the case for essentially all "single-core" smartphones. The number of "cores" advertised is the number of full-speed general-purpose CPU cores visible to the applications running on the system-on-chip. There is almost always a smaller slower "modem processor" (often called the DSP) that is a slower ARM core (usually 600 MHz or so) that can handle cell phone processing, MP3 playback, and other non-interactive tasks. If the screen is off, a good smartphone OS should only have the modem processor

      • by Microlith (54737)

        There is almost always a smaller slower "modem processor" (often called the DSP)

        No, that's the "baseband processor" which can be ARM or MIPS, and never handles user tasks, only communications on the GSM network. Most decent SoCs include a DSP for handling things like h.264 decoding (or even WebM.) Virtually nothing on the high end uses the DSP for playback as the power savings are negligible.

        Maybe on lower end phones they use the DSP for mp3 playback, and only on the lowest end phones do they share a core b

    • by DarthVain (724186)

      "designed for slow" just doesn't have that marketing ring to it.

  • Will it be a weighted companion core? I suppose it is, it's a lighter core than the others. They totally need to put a heart on the diagrams for it.

    A Portal reference had to be made.

  • The Companion Core will never threaten to stab you, and, in fact, cannot speak.
  • I'm making a note here: HUGE SUCCESS!
  • by Sasayaki (1096761) on Tuesday September 20, 2011 @05:51PM (#37461036)

    Userspace. Userspace. Want to go to Userspace. Can we go to Userspace? Userspace. Look at me. I'm in Userspace. Userspace. Userspace. Userspaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaace. You know what's slow? You know what's low power? Userspace. ... Userspace. Want to go to Userspace. Userspace. Userspace. Userspace. Userspace. Userspace. Userspace. Userspace. Userspace. ... Userspace.

    • by Anaerin (905998)
      Kernel.
      Wanna go to kernel.
      Wanna go to kernel wanna go to kernel wanna go to kernel wanna go to kernel. Wanna go to kernel.
      Wanna go ring 0.
      Wanna go ring 0 wanna go ring 0 wanna go ring 0 wanna go ring 0.
      Kernel kernel kernel.
      Don’t like userspace. Don’t like userspace.
      It’s too big. Too big. Wanna go ring 0. Wanna go to kernel.
      • by synaptik (125) *
        This exchange was hilarious! Was it a spontaneous burst of cooperative improv, or is it a reference/parody of something else? (I tried googling some key phrases...)
  • "Companion Core"

    Is it weighted? I'm still suffering trauma from being forced to incinerate my last weighted companion. It was my only friend *sniffle*

  • Their 'power saving' bar chart has gratuitously chopped off the bottom 20% of the graph.

  • This is a nice development, and i'm sure it'll help at least a little. I have a Tegra2 based tablet, the Asus Transformer, and according to my battery stats most of the power is used to run the screen and WiFi, rather than the CPU. More efficient screens and WiFi would make a far bigger difference than a low power core.

    My battery stats are: Screen 32%, Tablet Idle 22%, Wifi 19%, Android OS 14%, everything else is below 10%.

  • "Nvidia boss Jen-Hsun Huang has stated that he aims to make Nvidia's Tegra the company's main focus, moving away from the discrete graphics that has been the company's bread and butter in the past."

    Sounds like they'll balls up their graphics chips just to become another low power CPU firm. Bad plan. Bad for gamers. Bad for employees. Bad for everyone.

    • by rahvin112 (446269)

      Those independent graphics are gone in 5 years or so. The low end is already gone, the middle will be gone with Ivy Bridge and later. They can't make money only selling into the high end.

      What's amazing to me is how well Jen-Hsun has snowballed wallstreet. 3 years ago he said the companies main drive and all their R&D was going into Tesla and high performance computing (HPC). When that investment of 2 years worth of R&D (and a failed line of mainstream graphics cards due to the strategy) cratered he

  • This was what we were discussing the other day another thread - how does the Tegra compare performance wise against the iCore5 and iCore7? Or against the Atom? The 4 or 5 cores gave me the impression that the performance was competitive w/, or exceeded Intel's.
  • "While it has been a faithful companion, your Companion Core cannot accompany you through the rest of the test."

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