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Nvidia Tegra X1 Smokes Apple’s A8X, Reinvents Connected Car

LAS VEGAS - Nvidia isn’t afraid to make Apple look bad, at least when it comes to performance benchmarks. The company’s new Tegra X1 processor, based on Maxwell architecture and offering 256 graphics cores, boasts at least 1.5 times the graphics performance of Apple’s A8X chip in various tests. You’ll also get silky smooth 4K video playback at 60 frames per second. But you won’t just find the X1 in tablets.

Coming to mobile devices and cars in 2015, the X1 is a 64-bit, 8-core CPU that’s about twice as powerful as last year’s impressive K1 (with 192 graphics cores). To prove its mettle, Nvidia showed us some cross-platform benchmarks that support both Android on iOS. On the demanding GFX Bench Manhattan test, for example, the X1 scored about twice as high as the A8X chip and older K1.

During its press event, Nvidia showed Epic Games’ Unreal Engine 4 Elemental demo running on the X1, complete with high dynamic range lighting. In one scene, oozing lava lit the up the environment as a rampaging giant smashed his way through the scene. This is the same demo that showed off the PS4’s capabilities not too long ago.

I witnessed another impressive live demo of the X1’s 4K video capabilities on two Samsung TVs placed side by side. At 30 fps, the action Nvidia recorded of northern California traffic using a Red camera look stilted, but at 60 fps, the footage looked a lot more smooth. Nvidia says the Tegra X1 is ready for Netflix 4K video.

Even with all of its graphics might, Nvidia says that the Tegra X1 is 1.7x more power efficient than the iPad Air’s A8X chip. A side-by-side demo showed that a board running the X1 processor sipped considerably less power at the same performance level.

X1 in the Driver’s Seat

The X1 won’t just power mobile gadgets. It’s coming to cars, starting with the Nvidia Drive CX, which is a digital cockpit computer. It offers 16.6 million of pixels max resolution, ideal for autos that sport multiple monitors.

The prototype infotainment system shown at CES 2015 is extremely customizable. For example, you can split the huge touch panel on the dashboard so that navigation is at the top of the display and the media player is on the bottom. Or you can project Android Auto from your smartphone.

The Drive CX supports a surround view camera that gives you a neat birds’ eye view of your vehicle and surrounding area. The Drive CX Cluster offers dynamic lighting for the speedometer, and it can also show a smaller view of your navigation. Even cooler, you can completely change the look of the cluster, including bamboo or carbon fiber with red accents.

Nvidia will be working with its ecosystem partners, including automakers, to deliver its design studio so that they can leverage the toolset as they see fit.

An even more ambitious system coming down the pike is Drive PX, an auto pilot car computer with dual Tegra X1 chips and up to 12 camera inputs. Capable of processing up to 1.3 gigapixels per second, the Drive PX features Surround-Vision for a 360-degree view around the vehicle and Auto-Valet for self-parking.

An integrated deep neural network not only identifies various objects -- including pedestrians, cars, signs and lanes -- it’s situationally aware. For instance, the Drive PX might detect a flashing police car behind you or a school bus with flashing lights in front of you. During a demo, the Drive PX detected a bicyclist and several pedestrians at the same time.

Outlook

Despite offering blazing graphics performance, the K1 didn’t find a home in very many devices. But by broadening its horizons to the automotive space, the new X1 could power everything from tablets to next-generation vehicle infotainment and safety systems. Wherever it shows up, you can be sure we’ll be ready to put Tegra X1 to the test.

Mark Spoonauer is the Editor in Chief of Tom's Guide. Follow him at @mspoonauer. Follow Tom's Guide at @tomsguide, on Facebook and on Google+.