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Nvidia revealed today that its quad-core next-generation Tegra mobile processor has a surprise in it: a fifth core, or computing brain. The processor, code-named Project Kal-El, has a previously unannounced companion core that operates at exceptionally low power.

The extra core runs at a lower frequency and allows the overall chip to keep operating when it has a light workload. When a user is watching videos, listening to music, or browsing the web, the low-power fifth core takes over and the rest of the chip shuts down. When the processing workload increases, Kal-El disables the companion core and turns on its four high-performance cores as needed, one at a time.

This capability is independent of the operating system. That means the operating systems and applications don’t need to be redesigned to take advantage of the fifth core. Nvidia also said that Kal-El will use less power than dual-core processors across all performance levels. The quad-core, or maybe penta-core, chip can handle a wide variety of processing tasks including web apps, games, mobile apps and multitasking.

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