ARM Reaches Out With Muscular 2nd-Gen GPUs

Mobile processor manufacturer ARM on Monday announced the second generation of its Mali T-600 family of graphics processor units (GPUs), based on ARM’s Midgard architecture.

The new chips represent the second generation of Mali-T600 processors; the first was announced in November.

“The graphics demands in smartphones, tablets and DTVs continue to accelerate,” Steve Steele, senior product manager at ARM, told TechNewsWorld.

“GPU technology typically moves faster than CPU technology,” Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group, told TechNewsWorld.

About the Sons of Mali

The ARM Mali-T600 series consists of three GPUs for smartphones, tablets and smart TVs: the T624, T628 and T678. The first two are for smartphones and smart TVs; the T678 has been optimized for tablets.

The Mali-T624 offers up to four cores, and the other two up to eight cores. The second generation Mali-T600 family offers 50 percent better performance than its predecessor, ARM said. This was achieved by optimizing the register transfer level and implementing microarchitectural improvements for more efficient graphics execution.

GPU computing capabilities allow computational methods of enhancing or extending digital photography, such as enabling multiple perspectives on a subject and real-time photo editing on mobile devices. They also allow photo editing and video stabilization to be offered for a wider variety of consumer products.

ARM expects products with first-generation Mali-T600 cores in the market before the end of this year, the company’s Steele said. Products with the second-generation GPUs will be available in Q3 of 2013.

Working With the CPUs

The new Mali-T600 family is the first series of GPUs to include ARM’s Adaptive Scalable Texture Compression (ASTC).

ASTC gives content developers better control over the tradeoff between space and quality inherent in lossy compression schemes. Designers can pick among a wide choice of input formats without having to support multiple different compression schemes. It optimizes GPU performance and increases battery life in devices, enabling an always-on, always-connected experience, ARM said.

“Given the heavy focus on ever higher graphics generally, the GPU is now as power-hungry as the CPU or more power-hungry, and it controls the screen, which is the most power-hungry part of the device,” Enderle said.

The Mali-T600 CPUs support the major compute application programming interfaces to perform GPU computing for more efficient execution of parallel-intensive tasks.

“This is really about the GPU and CPU working together to more efficiently handle the compute workload,” Craig Stice, a senior principal analyst at IHS iSuppli, told TechNewsWorld. “They balance tasks, allowing performance of the right task by the most efficient architecture.”

For Tablets, With Love

With the T678, which was designed for tablets, ARM may be seeking to anticipate mobile device market trends.

“The importance of energy-efficient graphics processing capable of presenting the user experience for watching videos, playing games, and similar applications with sufficient battery life is the genesis for these embedded graphics engines targeting tablets,” Tom Hackenberg, semiconductors principal analyst at IHS iSuppli, told TechNewsWorld.

“Nvidia is competing with Tegra 3, which is the line of SOCs (Systems on a Chip) with an ARM core, and Nvidia embedded graphics targeting high-performance mobile,” Hackenberg continued. “TI (Texas Instruments) is competing with OMAP 5, targeting the same.”

“ARM is No. 1 in the Android market, and we see how diverse and dynamic the market is,” ARM’s Steele remarked. “Mali offers a wide range of performance points enabling silicon providers to offer a range of tablet, smartphone and DTV products all based around the same software stack.”

However, the leader in graphics core intellectual property (IP) is Imagination Technologies, which “has over half of all embedded graphics, including Apple iPads and iPhones,” Hackenberg said.

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