Nvidia Tegra K1 In-Depth: The Power Of An Xbox In A Mobile SoC?

Can Nvidia Strike While The Iron Is Hot?

On paper, Tegra K1 fixes the issues that most clearly put Tegra 4 at a competitive disadvantage. Some of the questions we still have can’t be answered until we get our hands on a derived device to test. Others won’t be resolved until game developers either bring premium content over from the console space or create newer titles using advanced APIs.

We had hoped to benchmark one of Nvidia’s reference platforms in time for the Tegra K1 announcement. They’re still so rare, though, that real performance data will need to come later. Production of the SoC purportedly started in December, and company representatives claim devices based on Tegra K1 will ship in the first half of 2014. However, specific announcements aren’t Nvidia’s to make, so it can’t comment on the form factors we’ll see or the regions they’ll be available in (nor did it mention any product of its own based on K1). But our own research in the early hours before CES suggests that at least one Tegra K1-based product is already on display. We consider this to be promising news.

What the company did say was that Tegra K1 is definitely a tablet play, and will also be available to premium superphones (think big screens and loaded with new technology). Tegra 4i, the more smartphone-oriented SoC with Nvidia’s i500 LTE modem built-in, is purportedly happening still, and we’re told there will be more information, again, in the first half of 2014.

But today’s discussion clearly isn’t about Tegra’s recent track record or Tegra K1’s ultimate destiny. Rather, knowing how amped our audience gets about speeds and feeds, Nvidia wanted to share more information about the SoC's inner workings. Together with Intel, Nvidia is one of the most forthcoming vendors in the mobile segment, revealing far more about its hardware than Apple or Qualcomm. Small gaps in the spec sheet (like a final GPU clock rate) remain; however, given what we already know about the Kepler architecture, this is the Tegra we were hoping for in 2013.

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Approx. Comparison To Both Last-Gen Consoles
Row 0 - Cell 0 Tegra K1PlayStation 3Xbox 360
Peak Shader (GFLOPS)365192240
Texturing (GTex/s)7.6128
Memory Bandwidth (GB/s)1728.822.4
Feature Set (DX)DX 11.2DX 9DX 9
CPU Performance (SPECint, Per-core)140312001200

One of the slides Nvidia presented in its briefing compared Tegra K1 to the Xbox 360 and PS3. Although the console specifications aren’t 100% on-target, the math suggests that a single SMX running at what we presume to be about 950 MHz offers substantially more shader horsepower and almost as much peak texture fillrate. At least in theory, Tegra K1 could be on par with those previous-generation systems that continue to occupy shelf space today. Could you imagine the gaming performance of your old Xbox in a tablet form factor, perhaps with a Bluetooth-connected controller to solve the I/O issue?

We’d only be missing the games—and that’s not an altogether bad position for Nvidia to be in, given the developer relationships it maintains on the PC side. The company appears to have its hardware ducks in a row. Let’s see if it can redefine the mobile gaming experience beyond Tegra-optimized titles with a few extra effects in them.

My challenge to Nvidia: do whatever it takes to bring games to tablets that enthusiasts want to play, instead of that superficial content we only bother with because we’re bored somewhere else. Show us that your mobile hardware has the same goodness as Kepler on the desktop and that those same developers will follow your lead. When Android gaming is as compelling as it is on the PC, there will be a long line of Tom’s Hardware readers ready to buy new tablets.

Chris Angelini
Chris Angelini is an Editor Emeritus at Tom's Hardware US. He edits hardware reviews and covers high-profile CPU and GPU launches.
  • Marcopolo123
  • azzazel_99
  • RupertJr
    "Approx. Comparison To Both Last-Gen Consoles"
    Why don't you update the graph title to "Prev Gen Consoles" since last gen consoles has 1.23 TFLOPS (XBOX One) and 1.84 TFLOPS (PS4) performance difference to this K1 chip is huge. It looks like NVidia will loose another battle...
  • renz496
    12372657 said:
    Where is the maxwell stuff did they not even address it yesterday? WTF

    most likely they will talk about it when the actual gpu is close to release.
  • Wisecracker
    At least in theory, Tegra K1 could be on par with those previous-generation systems ...

    AMD does it. Intel, too. But ...

    When it comes to over-the-top hype, embellishment and hyperbole, nVidia is the king.

  • ZolaIII
    @ Rupert Jr

    Well multiplied 3x & with higher memory bandwidth you are there.
    1.5x Maxwell & 2x cores (28nm to 16-14nm).
    Hyper memory cube.
    All this in 2015.
  • RupertJr
    but what you are assuming does not exists nowadays and maybe until years...
    where will be other chips at that time?
  • dragonsqrrl
    "in fact, the first Maxwell-powered discrete GPUs are expected in the next few weeks"

  • InvalidError
    12373063 said:
    It looks like NVidia will loose another battle...
    Well, they are right on at least one thing: 2014's SoCs are now about on par with high-end components from ~7 years ago or mid-range gaming PCs from ~5 years ago and are managing to do so on a 2-3W power budget, which is rightfully impressive IMO.

    If SoCs continue improving at this pace while PCs remain mostly stagnant, the performance gap between SoCs and mainstream PCs will be mostly gone by the time 2015 is over.
  • Shankovich
    I'm assuming this SoC will run at around 15 watts. With 192 CUDA cores and DDR3 LP, your max output will probably be somewhere around 180 GFLOPS. Yes yes it CAN do the same effects as consoles and PC, so what? If the Game Cube had DX 11.2 api running on it, it could as well, but obviouslt it coiuldn't put too much on the screen. This will be the same deal with the K1.

    It's cool, I like it, don't get me wrong, but the stuff they're saying, though technically correct, is so misleading to about 90% of the market. People are going to think they have PS4's in their hand when in reality they have half a xbox 360 with up to date API's running on it.