ARM's New GPUs to Step up Mobile War With NVIDIA, Imagination Tech.
November 10, 2011 4:46 PM
New octacore designs will likely launch in late 2012 or early 2013 in Samsung smartphones and tablets
ARM Holdings, Plc. (
) is making waves in the crowded mobile graphics market, airing a new, more powerful next-generation design [
The chipmaker, best known for its licensed reduced instruction set computer (RISC) processors,
is also pushing
licensable mobile graphics processing unit (GPUs) technology, including the new design -- dubbed the Mali-T658. The Mali-T658 smartphone-aimed multi-core GPU promises smoother HD video playback and improved polygon pushing in games.
I. Mali's Competitors are Mali's Partners
ARM Holdings (or just ARM, for short) makes a GPU solution that competes with Qualcomm, Inc.'s (
) Adreno GPU, NVIDIA Corp.'s (
) mobile GeForce derivatives, and Imagination Technologies Group Plc.'s (
) PowerVR designs.
Qualcomm and NVIDIA also happen to be the two of ARM Holdings biggest clients, licensing its
design, used in their respective Snapdragon and Tegra lines.
In other words, ARM is competing against its own biggest clients. The awkward relationship brings to mind Google Inc.'s (
) dual-role as a smartphone OEM competitor via
recently acquired Motorola Mobility
as a smartphone OS maker, gifting its Android OS on its OEM-level competitors like South Korea's Samsung Electronics Comp., Ltd. (
). Coincidentally Samsung licenses ARM's CPU
GPU designs, and other Android handset makers like Google almost exclusively use ARM-licensed CPUs.
The GPU wars have moved from the PC onto smartphones and tablets! [Source: Flickr]
The odd web of ARM CPU-makers, GPU-makers, and Android OEMs may be messy, but thus far it's spread a whole lot of revenue and prosperity around. In other words, cooperation has been good, and the competition hasn't been bad either.
II. Eight Cores of Power
Setting aside the sticky web of licensing and GPU entrants, the new T658 GPU represents a major technical stem forward for mobile GPUs.
Like most GPU architectures, ARM's GPU design consists of shader cores each with arithmetic pipelines capable of doing parallel math operations. Modern graphics is largely about intense floating point (e.g. scientific notation decimal numbers) math, except when it comes to colors.
Both the T604 and T658 are Mali Midgard GPUs. The Midgard GPU uses an arithmetic, load/store and texturing "tri-pipe" design. Figures indicate a double ALU per core design is used. In other words, each core can do three or four simultaneous kinds of operations on two ALUs.
A VERY high level view of the Mali Midgard's operation. [Source: ARM Holdings]
It's important to note that this is somewhat different from
NVIDIA's Geforce-derived design in Tegra 3
, which employs shaders with a single ALU per core. As a second point of comparison, PowerVR offers a very similar dual ALU layout to what ARM Holdings is doing here.
ARM has enhanced its GPU in two ways from the previous Mali-T604 design.
First, it's doubled the arithmetic pipelines in each shader core. Second it's doubled the number of (fragment) shader cores from four to eight. The new octacore GPU is on paper four times faster, as the result of these two major changes. These changes allow it to essentially match rival Imagination Technologies' Power VR SGX544 design (which also has 8 cores x 2 ALUs per core).
A (slightly) lower level view of the Mali T658 chip. [Source: ARM Holdings]
The Midgard family looks promising, not only for smartphone chip designs (the primary target), but tablets, netbooks, and laptops, as well. Specifically it packs support for a host of GPU computing and graphics APIs, making it among the most multifunctional chips on paper.
Comments ARM Media manager Steve Steele, "I should mention that Midgard supports all your favourite graphics APIs (Khronos™ OpenGL® ES, OpenVG™, Microsoft® DirectX® 11) and Compute APIs (Khronos OpenCL™, Google® RenderScript™ compute and Microsoft DirectCompute®). And not just any OpenCL I might add – Full Profile OpenCL is supported thanks to the IEEE 754-2008 floating point capability built into the GPU hardware."
By contrast the SGX554 is a bit more limited in its standards support, though this doesn't exactly affect most users on the smartphones end -- as most smartphone apps (e.g. browsers and image editors) are still in the early stages of GPU computing optimization.
Both Tegra 3 and the Mali T658 are capable of supporting up to 1080p. Tegra 3 promises 1280x1024 pixel resolution -- OS allowing. By contrast, details on Mali's LCD driving capabilities weren't revealed.
It's rumored that one advantage that Mali may have over rival designs like Geforce and PowerVR is cache coherence -- i.e. in layperson's terms, it can share its fast local memory between the GPU and CPU.
In the limited available information some important details are unknown, namely:
Did the vertex shader count change?
Is the ALU count per fragment shader still two (as early diagrams suggested)?
How wide is the ALU/are the ALUs? (See
for a guess at the width from the
What does the pipeline look like/how deep is it?
What's the clock speed?
What resolutions are supported by the built-in LCD driver?
We're reaching out to ARM for answers. But don't necessarily expect a response -- the company is notoriously cagy on details about its implementation.
III. What Phones/Tablets Will This Land in, And How Good Will They Be?
The GPU is "out now" from ARM, but that means someone still has to go and put the little bugger on a finished chip design.
Samsung's processor line recently made an important switch from Imagination Technologies GPUs to ARM Holding GPUs. The older Hummingbird chips (still in use) pack PowerVR GPUs, but the new Exynos chips pack Mali GPUs. This a huge win for ARM Holdings as it means that its GPUs are in the latest and greatest products from Samsung, including
the best-selling Android smartphone, the Galaxy S II
The Galaxy S II used the Mali T400 design -- the last major design before Midgard. This two-generations-old design was capable of the best overall graphics performance of any smartphone in OpenGL benchmarks (though trailing higher-clocked Imagination Technologies' SGX540 in pure triangle output)
, but has
since been dethroned
by the SGX543 MP2 (onboard the iPhone 4S) in benchmarks.
It's hard to say when the Mali-T658 products will land, but Q3 2012 seems a fair guess. That's just after Imagination Technologies is deploying its octacore-ready SGX554 architecture (Q2 2012).
The latest Samsung roadmap shows the Exynos 5250 as the first chip to sport the Mali T604. That's due out in 2012. Samsung commonly releases two system-on-a-chip designs per year, so a second half 2012 launch sounds about right.
With the next-generation not-yet-named Exynos Mali T658-equipped chip and the Exynos 5250, ARM Holdings is poised to likely spring into second or third, behind Imagination Technologies (and potentially NVIDIA) in the smartphone/tablet market. PowerVR remains entrenched on devices from Apple, Inc. (
) and Motorola Mobility.
The major unknown is Tegra. By 2012,
Tegra 4 (codename
will be dropping with a host of improvements, including a GPU design which can have up to 64 cores (of course, comparing this to ARM Holdings and Imagination Technologies' octa-core GPUs is a bit questionable as the architectures are apparently very different). If Tegra 4 can come out ahead of the SGX554 at the Mali-T658 in performance, it just might continue its climb in market share. Tegra is increasingly being picked up by Motorola, LG Electronics, Inc. (
), and traditional PC makers turned tablet market entrants like Acer Inc. (
A final player worth mentioning is Qualcomm, whose Adreno design comes in the Snapdragon processors heavily used by HTC Corp. (
). Qualcomm will surely be looking to bring its A game too, so it's too soon to count it out.
A final word:
Who offers the best power efficiency, the best performance, and the best combination of the two is clearly only part of the picture. A major aspect of the success or failure of these various entrants -- including the Mali-T658 -- boils down to what kind of deals with OEMs are reached, and how those OEMs fare in the market.
More Analysis: BBC News
"This week I got an iPhone. This weekend I got four chargers so I can keep it charged everywhere I go and a land line so I can actually make phone calls." -- Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg
Google Pledges to Defend Partners Against Apple, Microsoft
November 9, 2011, 4:00 PM
NVIDIA Launches Tegra 3, Claims 5x Performance Boost
November 9, 2011, 7:06 AM
Samsung's Galaxy S/S II Android Juggernaut Rolls With 30 Million Sold
October 18, 2011, 11:13 AM
UPDATE: Google to Acquire Motorola Mobility, Gain Huge Patent Portfolio
August 15, 2011, 7:45 AM
NVIDIA SoCs Goes Quad-core with "Kal-El", More Superhero Friends on the Way
February 16, 2011, 12:06 AM
ASUS RT-AC5300 – Ultimate Game & 4K Streaming
April 18, 2017, 7:45 AM
HP Envy 17t Touch – All-Day Battery for All-Day Portability
April 13, 2017, 6:29 AM
ASUS Chromebook Flip C302CA – Your Versatile Flexible Companion
April 11, 2017, 6:14 AM
What is the best Processor for gaming? AMD or Intel
April 2, 2017, 6:30 AM
Arris Motorola SB 6141 – High Range of Compatibility and Internet Speeds
March 28, 2017, 7:55 AM
Comparison – Samsung Galaxy TabPro S Vs Microsoft Surface Pro 4
March 21, 2017, 7:40 AM
Most Popular Articles
Surface Pro 5 Rumors - New Release Date and Price
April 22, 2017, 6:45 AM
Vivo V5 Plus – the Selfie Softlight is on You.
April 17, 2017, 7:05 AM
What is the Apple’s iPhone 8 specifications and release date?
April 14, 2017, 5:43 AM
Meet the Smartphone with four cameras - Alcatel Flashphone
April 5, 2017, 11:20 AM
ASUS RT-AC5300 – Ultimate Game & 4K Streaming
April 18, 2017, 7:45 AM
Latest Blog Posts
Sound Bars and the Costs?
Apr 23, 2017, 6:30 AM
Link your Brain to Your Computer – In Four Years…Maybe
Apr 22, 2017, 7:03 AM
Google Home can now identify users by their voice.
Apr 21, 2017, 7:15 AM
Amazon Lex – Now Available for Developers.
Apr 20, 2017, 6:58 AM
You can now use Instagram offline on your Android Smartphone
Apr 19, 2017, 8:00 AM
Now you can livestream to YouTube from your mobile device.
Apr 18, 2017, 8:05 AM
Google Home – Is It a Spy Device?
Apr 17, 2017, 7:30 AM
Apple added to self –driving test permit list
Apr 15, 2017, 6:21 AM
Project Scorpio – Coming on June 11
Apr 14, 2017, 6:20 AM
Looks Like Samsung Has Been Forgiven.
Apr 13, 2017, 6:50 AM
United Airlines - Blasted on China’s Social Network and the Stock Market
Apr 12, 2017, 6:50 AM
Amazon's Third-Party Sellers Hacked
Apr 11, 2017, 6:25 AM
Microsoft Surface Pro5 Details Revealed
Apr 9, 2017, 6:41 AM
Own An Android Phone? Then you could be hacked over Wi-FI
Apr 7, 2017, 6:47 AM
Apple confirms iOS 10.3 bug and its effect on iCloud Services
Apr 6, 2017, 6:30 AM
Apple Rolls Out New Version of Apple Music
Apr 5, 2017, 10:35 AM
Apple in the News
Apr 4, 2017, 9:03 AM
Apple iPhones Will Soon Feature Graphics Chips Designed BY Apple
Apr 3, 2017, 6:23 AM
AMD Ryzen Desktop Processors Performance
Apr 2, 2017, 6:30 AM
What makes a camera Lensless?
Apr 1, 2017, 7:45 AM
Google halts Android Wear 2.0 Update Due to Bug
Mar 31, 2017, 7:27 AM
Uber Technologies Inc Driverless Car hit by Human-driver
Mar 30, 2017, 8:00 AM
More Blog Posts
Copyright 2017 DailyTech LLC. -
Terms, Conditions & Privacy Information