NVIDIA tonight unveiled Kal-El, a chip it claims is the first quad-core mobile processor. Likely to be called the Tegra 3, its two extra processor cores plus a 12-core graphics engine help it get into greater-than-HD resolutions in mobile. The system on a chip with the Superman-inspired name can smoothly play 1440p (2560x1440) video and has enough power to drive a Retina Display-like 300DPI image on a 10-inch tablet.
The overall performance should be roughly double that of a Tegra 2 in pure processing, reflecting the sheer number of cores, but three times faster for visuals. NVIDIA went so far as to claim that it was catching up to notebook processors and could outperform an old but still capable 2GHz Core 2 Duo T7200 in some areas.
Despite the extra hardware, NVIDIA claimed Kal-El was more efficient and would use less power when optimized. A tablet with an unnamed capacity could handle 12 hours of regular HD video.
Production should start in August, although NVIDIA hasn't named customers. It may be the choice for major tablet designers such as LG and Samsung, many of whom have had to use it as the reference chip for Android 3.0. NVIDIA has a long-term roadmap as well and is using "real superhero" codenames for the rest of the Tegra updates, starting with Wayne in 2012, Logan in 2013 and Stark in 2014. Stark would draw even with a Core 2 Duo in performance.
The upgrade sets a high competition watermark for current tablet market leader Apple, which may go dual-core in the short term but whose ability to keep up isn't known. Rumors have circulated of a possible third iPad in fall that could be Apple's opportunity to jump to quad-core on its own.