Nvidia holds coming out party for Tegra K1 at CES … with a 64-bit Denver preview for good measure



Nvidia’s latest – and it appears best – attempt to disrupt the mobile SoC status quo

And the story about the green aliens generating a crop circle in a Salinas corn field? Only half true…   

by JPR Senior Analyst, Alex Herrera

The mobile SoC Nvidia had internally called Logan was officially announced at CES in Las Vegas on January 5. That it did was little surprise, as it’s been on Nvidia’s public roadmap for at least two years. The public name for the Tegra 4 successor wasn’t quite we anticipated, called "Tegra K1" rather than presumed "Tegra 5". But while the public unveiling of Logan divulged little else new at the surface, a deep dive beneath uncovered a few unexpected details, and a major revelation, one that will cause both current rivals and prospective customers to take notice. 

Make that two Tegra K1’s: launching a 32-bit version now and previewing a 64-bit version for later 

Here comes Denver! 

The Tegra K1 SoC being launched at CES comes in the conventional 32-bit variety, ready to compete with the likes of Apple, Qualcomm and a host of other ARM and Imagination Technologies supplied players. 

But you may also remember an initiative at Nvidia going by the name of Denver, an ambitious attempt by Nvidia to develop not just its own ARM CPU, but one that’s built around a 64-bit architecture. 64-bits for mobile? Yes, phones and tablets will be starting the migration, but Denver is about more than that. Long term, Denver is what non-x86 player Nvidia is pursuing to create a Wintel alternative for more conventional corporate desktop, notebook, workstation and server platforms. With Denver, in theory and with a whole lot of bootstrapping and incremental infrastructure, ARM and Windows alternatives will one day compete on a level playing field with Wintel.  

First mentioned a couple of years back at Nvidia’s Graphics Technology Conference (GTC), Denver has come up now and then in company disclosures and press event Q&A’s. But we hadn’t heard much concrete on Denver … until now. In conjunction with the announcement of the 32-bit Tegra K1 SoC product at CES, Nvidia also previewed a 64-bit version of the device, expected to launch some time during the second half of 2014. Pin-to-pin compatible with the 32-bit Tegra K1,the 64-bit Tegra K1 will be built around Nvidia’s first homegrown CPU, the long-anticipated 64-bit Denver, supporting ARM’s recently established ARMv8 architecture. 

The 64-bit Denver preview should turn some heads – it turned ours – but for now, it’s in the on-deck circle. 64-bit ARM is an absolutely worthwhile endeavor, particularly critical for a vendor like Nvidia. If the ambitious, wide-ranging plan to build a competitive environment for enterprise-class 64-bit devices develops as the company hopes, Denver will pay off big time down the road.

But 64-bit ARM is not what’s going to be powering the ARM-based devices that ship in the hundreds of millions right now … smartphones, tablets, and the like. Rather, it’s the 32-bit Tegra K1’s turn to bat now, and it’s the device on which Nvidia’s betting will gain a deeper foothold into today’s big-volume ARM applications. 

Look for JPR’s comprehensive deep-dive into every corner of Tegra K1 product and technology, available bright and early on January 6. 

Aliens? No, but green men for sure ...

Nvidia must be thinking the typical die photos accompanying chip product launches have become rather passé. We see their point … everyone’s seen them, and they all start to look alike. So the company’s marketing team took a decidedly different tack for this launch, etching a mysterious, but unmistakable rendition of the company’s new 28 nm Tegra K1 SoC in a Salinas farmer’s cornfield.

It first appeared on December 30, caught by aerial photographers. News outlets caught on quickly, and word spread around the world, with a few crop circle enthusiasts feverishly working to decode the details, in particular an odd array of dots in the shape’s rectangular mid-section. Looked a little like Braille, at least one thought, and the subsequent translation yielded an odd repetitive "192","192","192" … a message from some remote world? Not quite, more like from just up Route 101 in Silicon Valley. And ultimately, we discovered it wasn’t the work of aliens, though it turns out a few green men were involved. 


Figure 1 The Tegra K1 28 nm die on the left … the "alien" rendition in Salinas, CA on the right (source Nvidia)

Chalk one up to the Nvidia marketing team. They certainly created an intriguing viral market buzz with this stunt. We think we were the first to figure this out, not because we’re any Sherlock Holmes, but we were one of the few outfits who had seen the die (as well as all the NDA disclosures) prior to launch. 

The main chip blocks are unmistakable, especially the four ARM CPU cores, plus one "power-saver", as well as the massive GPU above. Oh, and the cryptic "192" in Braille? Well, that would refer to the 192 CUDA cores comprising Tegra K1’s Kepler-based GPU. 


But a lot more on the architecture, as well as the market prospects of Nvidia’s new mobile-targeted SoC in JPR’s lengthy deep-dive analysis, set for release on JPR’s web site on Monday morning, January 6 … for now, rest assured, residents of Salinas, you aren’t being visited by little green men – just one determined green chip company, anxious to launch one of its most important products to date. 

Figure 2 Now that we think of it, Nvidia’s green logo always did seem awfully alien (Source: Nvidia)

Contact Information

Jon Peddie Research


http://jonpeddie.com/

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