Power Consumption

There's a lot of uncertainty around whether or not Kepler is suitable for ultra low power operation, especially given that we've only seen it in relatively high TDP (compared to tablets/smartphones) PCs. NVIDIA hoped to put those concerns to rest with a quick GLBenchmark 2.7 demo at Siggraph. The demo pitted an iPad 4 against a Logan development platform, with Logan's Kepler GPU clocked low enough to equal the performance of the iPad 4. The low clock speed does put Kepler at an advantage as it can run at a lower voltage as well, so the comparison is definitely one you'd expect NVIDIA to win. 

Unlike Tegra 3, Logan includes a single voltage rail that feeds just the GPU. NVIDIA instrumented this voltage rail and measured power consumption while running the offscreen 1080p T-Rex HD test in GLB2.7. Isolating GPU power alone, NVIDIA measured around 900mW for Logan's Kepler implementation running at iPad 4 performance levels (potentially as little as 1/5 of Logan's peak performance). NVIDIA also attempted to find and isolate the GPU power rail going into Apple's A6X (using a similar approach to what we documented here), and came up with an average GPU power value of around 2.6W. 

I won't focus too much on the GPU power comparison as I don't know what else (if anything) Apple hangs off of its GPU power rail, but the most important takeaway here is that Kepler seems capable of scaling down to below 1W. In reality NVIDIA wouldn't ship Logan with a < 1W Kepler implementation, so we'll likely see higher performance (and power consumption) in shipping devices. If these numbers are believable, you could see roughly 2x the performance of an iPad 4 in a Logan based smartphone, and 4 - 5x the performance of an iPad 4 in a Logan tablet - in as little as 12 months from now if NVIDIA can ship this thing on time.

If NVIDIA's A6X power comparison is truly apples-to-apples, then it would be a huge testament to the power efficiency of NVIDIA's mobile Kepler architecture. Given the recent announcement of NVIDIA's willingness to license Kepler IP to any company who wants it, this demo seems very well planned. 

NVIDIA did some work to make Kepler suitable for low power, but it's my understanding that the underlying architecture isn't vastly different from what we have in notebooks and desktops today. Mobile Kepler retains all of the graphics features as its bigger counterparts, although I'm guessing things like FP64 CUDA cores are gone.

Final Words

For the past couple of years we've been talking about a point in the future when it'll be possible to start playing console class games (Xbox 360/PS3) on mobile devices. We're almost there. The move to Kepler with Logan is a big deal for NVIDIA. It finally modernizes NVIDIA's ultra mobile GPU, bringing graphics API partity to everything from smartphones to high-end desktop PCs. This is a huge step for game developers looking to target multiple platforms. It's also a big deal for mobile OS vendors and device makers looking to capitalize on gaming as a way of encouraging future smartphone and tablet upgrades. As smartphone and tablet upgrade cycles slow down, pushing high-end gaming to customers will become a more attractive option for device makers.

Logan is expected to ship in the first half of 2014. With early silicon back now, I think 10 - 12 months from now is a reasonable estimate. There is the unavoidable fact that we haven't even seen Tegra 4 devices on the market yet and NVIDIA is already talking about Logan. Everything I've heard points to Tegra 4 being on the schedule for a bunch of device wins, but delays on NVIDIA's part forced it to be designed out. Other than drumming up IP licensing business, I wonder if that's another reason why we're seeing a very public demo of Logan now - to show the health of early silicon. There's also a concern about process node. Logan will likely ship at 28nm next year, just before the transition to 20nm. If NVIDIA is late with Logan, we could have another Tegra 3 situation where NVIDIA is shipping on an older process technology.

Regardless of process tech however, Kepler's power story in ultra mobile seems great. I really didn't believe the GLBenchmark data when I first saw it. I showed it to Ryan Smith, our Senior GPU Editor, and even he didn't believe it. If NVIDIA is indeed able to get iPad 4 levels of graphics performance at less than 1W (and presumably much more performance in the 2.5 - 5W range) it looks like Kepler will do extremely well in mobile.

Whatever NVIDIA's reasons for showing off Logan now, the result is something that I'm very excited about. A mobile SoC with NVIDIA's latest GPU architecture is exactly what we've been waiting for. 

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  • cdripper2 - Wednesday, July 24, 2013 - link

    that was @ ExarKun333. post didn't work quite right there.... Reply
  • Concillian - Wednesday, July 24, 2013 - link

    This is great news. Feature parity with PCs is enormous. Should be great for nVidia, and likely very bad news for PowerVR. Reply
  • Stuka87 - Wednesday, July 24, 2013 - link

    Glad to see them ditch Tegra, which was outdated the day it was released. performance numbers should go way up with the Qualcomm chip. Reply
  • Stuka87 - Wednesday, July 24, 2013 - link

    arg, wrong window, ignore my last comment :/ Reply
  • michael2k - Wednesday, July 24, 2013 - link

    Except PowerVR Series 6 is essentially at parity, and was available for licensing last January and should be shipping this year. Logan isn't supposed to be out until next year. Reply
  • HisDivineOrder - Wednesday, July 24, 2013 - link

    The only time you can trust anything nVidia says about Tegra and product delivery is when it's been shipping for weeks and owned by consumers. Otherwise, they'll lie to your face right up until the very day they are supposed to be shipping product to consumers and then shrug and say, "Oh, sorry. Yah, not happening. Don't know when exactly it'll ship, but hey, it was totally unexpected. We totally didn't know we were going to miss the date until... just now."

    This is why they lost so many contracts to Qualcomm, including the Nexus one. They're just way too unreliable.

    Having such great API support and having it be highly compatible with PC gaming and console gaming will only be great when it happens to a company that actually delivers product on time and within promised spec.

    And that company will almost certainly be Qualcomm.
    Reply
  • Krysto - Wednesday, July 24, 2013 - link

    Not denying what you said, but today I realized they probably dropped Tegra because Qualcomm supports OpenGL ES 3.0, and it was one of the main features of Android 4.3. Tegra 4 doesn't support it. Reply
  • lmcd - Wednesday, July 24, 2013 - link

    That has to be why, in my opinion. Reply
  • HighTech4US - Wednesday, July 24, 2013 - link

    Haters gotta Hate. Reply
  • lmcd - Wednesday, July 24, 2013 - link

    Not like Qualcomm dropped the ball on Windows drivers or anything...

    Of course it turned out that market was worthless but you should pay a little more attention!
    Reply

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