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David Zax

A View from David Zax

Quad-Core Mobile Gaming

Nvidia makes an impressive case that it holds the future of mobile gaming.

  • June 7, 2011

Believe it or not, there is a world of mobile gaming beyond Angry Birds. And Nvidia, the visual computing technology company, might just be the one to break the spell of those ballistic fowl.

Nvidia already produces a dual-core chip, “Tegra 2,” that powers many a mobile device. Not long ago, though, Nvidia announced its intention to redouble its efforts—unveiling what it promised would be the world’s first quad-core mobile processor.

This week, we are seeing for the first time why a quad-core processor—Nvidia calls its work-in-progress “Project Kal-El”—matters to the future of mobile gaming (and gaming in general). Nvidia put together a video showing off how the quad-core processor enables dynamic lighting effects that wouldn’t be possible with a lesser chip.

In the demo, called “Glowball,” a ball rolls around a room in a funhouse. That’s simple enough. But the ball is illuminated from within, and has a purple-and-yellow exterior. As the ball rolls around, it casts swirling light on the marble floor. As the gamer tilts the device, drapes lining the walls of the funhouse flutter and wave, simulated in real time.

The demo includes a CPU meter showing how the processor responds throughout the demo. “This is pounding the four cores of Kal-El,” says the narrator. To prove his point, he then shuts off two of the cores. Suddenly, the frame rate drops precipitously, making the game all but unplayable. He flicks back on the two unused cores, and suddenly the game is running again, “smooth as butter.” What’s more, the actual production chip is expected to be 25-30% faster.

There are no “canned animations,” promises Nvidia in a blog post hosting the video. Everything is run in real time, with the physics of the ball interacting with its environment simulated across the four cores for the dazzling effects.

Of course, graphics aren’t everything. I’ll take a well-designed 8-bit game over a poorly designed photorealistic one any day. Even so, the visuals of the Glowball demo are jaw-dropping enough to make me reconsider my stance that mobile gaming can never attain to the levels of console or PC. Nvidia makes a strong case that hard-core gamers will soon be quad-core gamers.

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