2015, Consumer Electronics Show (CES), Event

CES 2015: Nvidia Announces Mobile Maxwell, Automotive Computers [Updated]

Keeping with its tradition announcing mobile-focused products at the Consumer Electronics Show, Nvidia’s (NASDAQ: NVDA) CEO Jen Hsun Huang announced the Tegra X1 at the company’s keynote Sunday.

The Tegra X1 has a 256-core GPU and an eight-core CPU onboard, and is able to pump out a teraflop of computing power. Like its desktop Maxwell cousins, it supports DirectX 11.2 and OpenGL 4.5. Also it will be able to support DirectX 12 when that API is officially unveiled with Windows 10. For its CPU, it has 64-bit ARM Cortex A57 and A53 cores in a Big.LITTLE configuration — much like the Snapdragon 810.

Calling the new mobile SoC the most efficient and powerful on the market, Huang said that the Tegra X1 is on par
for performance with the Xbox One — albeit in much different power envelope. At last year’s Nvidia keynote
at CES 2014, Huang made similar claims when comparing the Tegra K1 with the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3.

On stage, Nvidia demoed Unreal Engine 4 running on a Tegra X1 with on a reference design phone to show off the power of the chip.

Tegra’s new market

As Nvidia has shifted focus away from marketing Tegra to tablets and smartphones, partially because of market saturation and partially because of Nvidia’s inability to get solid hardware wins, the use-case Huang pitched for the Tegra X1 was automotive: next-generation infotainment, navigation and eventually self-driving systems will require a lot of computing power.

“Surely you don’t need it for phones,” Huang said on stage, referencing comments he made to the press last year about re-focusing Tegra. “Your future cars will be the most advanced computers in the world.”

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nvidia-self-driving-car

For automotive, Nvidia offers the Tegra X1 in two packages. The Nvidia Drive CX is a “digital cockpit computer”, powering next-generation infotainment systems. The more impressive product, the Drive PX, is what Nvidia hopes will power self-driving cars. Powered by two Tegra X1s, the chip links into 12 HD cameras placed throughout the vehicle and is able to build an “environment model”, learning the hazards of the road — such as signs, pedestrians and other vehicles — in order to autonomously drive.

While the hardware on offer certainly looks enticing, it remains to be seen if Nvidia can steer clear of the pitfalls encountered by the earlier-generation Tegra chips. Power efficiency was always a major reason for Nvidia’s failure to secure a key hardware win in the mobile segment with the Tegra 4, and then the Tegra K1. This time around, Nvidia has mentioned that it is able to deliver significantly more performance than than last year’s Tegra K1 while drawing less power. Nvidia showcased as much during the pitted the iPad Air 2 next to a reference design tablet running the X1. The overall result was that the GPU was found to indeed draw less power, but whether Nvidia is able to sustain the same at a system-wide level can only be determined once the SoC starts becoming available in retail hardware.

There’s no question that Nvidia has managed to achieve class-leading performance when it comes to mobile SoCs with the Tegra X1. The question is now whether it can deliver a decent power efficiency. If it is able to do so successfully, the X1 may just turn out to be the hardware powering your next gaming tablet.