Microsoft Pulls Back The Curtain On Its Powerful HoloLens

Microsoft’s HoloLens VR helmet is the biggest chip it’s holding right now. Aside from Project Scorpio which will probably be connected somehow. While a few demos of the gadget have been shown by Microsoft, not many knew what was going on inside the mysterious HoloLens. Yesterday that mystery was solved. Microsoft Device Engineer Nick Baker (the man behind the hardware of the Xbox and Xbox One as well as Ultimate TV) took apart the gadget at the Hot Chips Conference in Cupertino, California and revealed the juicy specs.Picture1

HoloLens is fitted with a TSMC 28 nm co processor that has 24 Digital Signal Processor (DSP) Cores. That means those cores are optimized for digital signal processing; receiving information from the surroundings in record time, something that is central to the device. The cores are arranged in 12 clusters. In addition, the processor has 65 million logic gates, 8 MB of SDRAM, 1 GB of DDR3 RAM and a 12 mm x 12 mm Ball Grid Array (BGA) package. Microsoft calls it an HPU (Holographic Processing Unit). The HPU draws less than 10 W of power and feature PCIe.

Microsoft was able to customize Tensilica’s design to input ten specific instructions in to the HPU to render real time imagery; drawing data from accelerometers and Kinect-ish camera systems for depth sensing. Overall, the unit can push algorithms to 200 times faster than in pure software.DSCN9382-930x698

All that fancy talk leads the device to make up to 1 trillion floating point operations per second. All of the data aggregated from the surroundings is processed within the hardware itself, making it faster than the run of the mill CPU. Speaking of which, the HPU chip sits aside a 14 nm Intel Atom x86 Cherry Trail processor chip with 1 GB of RAM, running Windows 10 by default. It also features some apps that take advantage of the device’s power. By the time data gets to the Atom chip, it’s almost ready so the chip barely has to work at all.

Nick Baker also talked about “Fragments”, a game that showed how HoloLens will simulate augmented reality around the home, such as the undersea environment.


Now the simulations that Microsoft has run on the device are said to be at only 50% capacity so we can expect the boys at Redmond Washington to pimp it out further without radically changing the design.

The HoloLens is available to developers for a cool $3000 right now and its final release date is some time next year.


Tensilica was founded in 1997 by Chris Rowen. It is a specialized processing chip company that combines CPUs with DSPs to delivering many times the processing power of the CPU on average. It is well known for its Xtensa customizable chipset that can be tailored to many different applications.

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Hot Chips is a technology symposium held at Stanford University campus where the latest microprocessors and chips are unveiled and discussed. The conference has been held every year since 1989 and is sponsored by IEEE and ACM SIGARCH. The Symposium was held this year from 22-23 August.