NVIDIA’s family of SoCs called Tegra has been around for many years, and initially, the SoC series was the company’s response to a growing mobile market. However, over the past few years, the Tegra brand was phased out of the mobile niche and lately people have been wondering what NVIDIA’s plans are for the future, especially given the fact that the company’s public roadmap lacked information beyond the current generation Tegra X2 “Parker” SoC. The answer came yesterday from NVIDIA’s GTC Europe 2016 conference, where the company unveiled its newest silicon called Xavier, designed specifically for self-driving cars.
Although Xavier isn’t NVIDIA’s first chipset for self-driving vehicles, the company seems to have designed this particular SoC to offer a solution similar to its Drive PX 2 hardware into a single chip. NVIDIA wants Xavier to achieve 20 Deep Learning Tera-Ops (DL TOPS) worth of 8-bit Integer operations - which is also the maximum number of DL TOPS the Drive PX 2 can achieve - all the while keeping the chipset's power requirements to as low as 20 watts. In terms of specifications, NVIDIA’s Xavier will be equipped with 8 custom ARM cores, and a graphics chip based on Volta architecture featuring 512 CUDA cores (up from 256 CUDA cores used by Pascal - on Parker SoCs). The chipset will be built using TSMC’s (Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company) 16nm FinFET+ process, and will accommodate a total of 7 billion transistors, which is about as many as there are on a GP104-based graphics processing unit including the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1070 and GTX 1080. Sadly though, while the company has confirmed that Xavier will utilize a graphics chip based on Volta architecture, NVIDIA hasn’t revealed much about the aforementioned 8 custom ARM CPU cores and their architecture, so it remains to be seen whether the design will be a continuation of the ongoing Denver cores, or a step in a new direction.
As mentioned above, NVIDIA Xavier is meant for the automotive market and specifically for accelerating the concept of self-driving vehicles. This means that although NVIDIA is already testing the hardware, sampling units will not be available before the fourth quarter of 2017. This could also mean that Xavier will not be shipped in high volumes earlier than the year 2018.