Nvidia explains fifth "Companion" core in Kal-El

Four cores are apparently not enough for the Tegra chipmaker as an extra core will be included with additional functionality

When Nvidia announced its next generation Kal-El mobile processor back in February at the Mobile World Conference, it was revealed to be a quad-core processor and the likely successor to the current dual-core Tegra 2 chips that currently power a number of tablets and high-end smartphones. What Nvidia didn’t tell us is that there will actually be a fifth core as part of the Kal-El SoC.

Don’t get too excited, however, as this extra core will not be like the other four. The “Companion” core, as Nvidia calls it, will handle low-power/background processes, while the four high-performance cores will handle all the intensive applications and workload, i.e. 3D games and media processing. The short description from the Nvidia Whitepaper (PDF) describes its functionality best:

The Companion core is used primarily when the mobile device is in active standby and performing background tasks such as Email syncs, Twitter updates, Facebook updates etc. It is also used for applications that do not require significant CPU processing power, such as streaming audio, offline audio, and both online or offline video playback.

The extra core does its duty when the device is idle or otherwise not stressed so the other four cores can power down to a lower-energy state. In essence, the Companion core was made with energy efficiency in mind for maximizing precious battery life.

The Nvidia Kal-El APU, likely to be marketed as Tegra 3 upon release, is expected to be available for tablets before the end of the year. Smartphones sporting the quad-core chip will have to wait until at least early 2012. By then, other major mobile chipmakers may have their respective next generation chips ready as well, such as Qualcomm’s quad-core Snapdragon APQ8064 or Texas Instrument’s OMAP 5 series.

Additional power-saving features of Kal-El compared to current competitors are detailed in the Nvidia source below.

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Allen Ngo, 2011-09-22 (Update: 2012-05-26)
Allen Ngo
Allen Ngo - US Editor in Chief
After graduating with a B.S. in environmental hydrodynamics from the University of California, I studied reactor physics to become licensed by the U.S. NRC to operate nuclear reactors. There's a striking level of appreciation you gain for everyday consumer electronics after working with modern nuclear reactivity systems astonishingly powered by computers from the 80s. When I'm not managing day-to-day activities and US review articles on Notebookcheck, you can catch me following the eSports scene and the latest gaming news.