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Graphics chipmaker Nvidia announced today that it will have “the world’s first quad-core” mobile processor out today. That means its latest offering for cell phones and other mobile devices features four processing brains in one chip.

San Jose-based Nvidia is in a race with San Diego’s Qualcomm, which announced a quad-core chip yesterday, to get to market the fastest with a mobile chip that has screaming performance.

This competitive battle reminds me of the competitive days of the PC market, when chip makers raced to get the smallest of edges on their competitors. But if Nvidia meets its schedule, it could gain a significant advantage on Qualcomm. That’s because Nvidia’s quad-core chips would be in products for the busy holiday season, while Qualcomm’s will come out afterward.

For consumers, this means that it won’t be long before tablet computers and smartphones have the same kind of performance you’d expect from a desktop computer or a laptop.

Mike Rayfield, general manager of Nvidia’s mobile business, said in a blog post that the company showed off a working quad-core Tegra mobile processor today at the Mobile World Congress event in Barcelona. He said the chip would be available in tablet computers in August and in smartphones by Christmas. By contrast, Qualcomm said that its quad-core processor would ship samples to customers in early 2012. Rayfield said Nvidia’s “next-generation super chip” is sampling today.

Nvidia’s new chip, code-named Kal-El, is a quad-core chip with five times the performance of Tegra 2, the chip that is appearing in a number of new tablet computers this spring. Nvidia also showed that it has a competitive Tegra roadmap of new products through 2014.

In the demo today, Rayfield said that Nvidia showed Kal-El running in an Android tablet, running a video on a very high-resolution 2560×1600 display. That’s the equivalent of the resolution on the best computer monitors available today.

On top of the quad-core processor, the Kal-El also has a powerful graphics component: a GeForce graphics processing unit (GPU) with 12 cores. By 2014, Nvidia promises 100 times the performance of what Tegra 2 can do now.

[image credit: Dragwire]

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