Ina Fried

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Nvidia’s Quad-Core Kal-El Packing a Secret Fifth Core

We now know the answer to a very nerdy trivia question.

When is a quad-core chip not a quad-core chip?

The answer, it was revealed on Tuesday, is when it is Nvidia’s forthcoming Kal-El processor. Although the chip does indeed pack four main processing cores, Nvidia noted today that it also harbors a low-power single-core processor that can be turned on in place of the four main cores when power consumption is the most critical factor. The fifth core runs at a lower frequency than the other four, the company said in a technical paper it posted to its Web site on Tuesday.

“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.,” Nvidia said in the paper.

The approach aims to address one of the challenges of the smartphone and tablet markets. While there is clearly demand for ever more processing power for things like gaming and augmented reality, these are also portable devices that have no utility once they run out of battery power. In a second paper, Nvidia also talks about how, even though it packs more cores, a quad-core chip can actually be used to consume less power than a dual-core chip.

Nvidia first talked about Kal-El back at February’s Mobile World Congress and said it would arrive later this year. A YouTube video from earlier this year shows the processor in action.

Rival Qualcomm has said it also plans to have a quad-core chip, though not until next year.

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