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ARM readies some killer game-console-like mobile graphics technology

ARM, the British multinational semiconductor and software design firm, is announcing a graphics technology that could power a new generation of portable devices like tablets and smartphones with visuals that could rival game consoles such as Sony’s PlayStation 3 and Microsoft’s Xbox 360.

The technology is ARM’s new series of Arm Mali T600 designs, with anywhere from one to eight graphics computing cores, or brains. ARM develops the underlying architecture and the “cores,” or the basic blueprints of a chip, which its licensees fashion into chips for mobile devices. The new T600 designs will provide ammunition for scores of manufacturers to build ground-breaking portable machines.

The company’s hallmark is creating power-efficient chips that are used in billions of devices each year, making them ideal in smartphones or tablets where battery life is a premium.

The ARM Mali family is a graphics processing unit (GPU) that displays the visuals of devices such as smart TVs, smartphones, and tablets. The GPU can be used in a machine with an ARM central processing unit (CPU) and Khronos Group graphics processing software such as Open GL ES 3.0, which is also debuting today.

“You’ll see this result in faster devices with more fluid user interfaces,” said Steve Steele, senior product manager at ARM, in an interview with GamesBeat. “It can handle graphics with increasing complexity and resolution.”

Long a leader in CPU cores, ARM began creating its Mali graphics cores in 2007. ARM Mali T200 products are shipping now in about 70 percent of digital TVs, 20 percent of Android smartphones, and 50 percent of Android tablets. About 160 manufacturer devices are shipping. About 12 partners shipped 48 million units in 2011, and 25 are expected to ship more than 100 million in 2012.

The previous Mali T400 series was unveiled in November 2010, and products based on it will be coming out in the second half of 2012. Devices based on the T600 series (T624, T628, and T678) are likely to be out next year.

ARM has to keep a steady cadence of designs coming for its licensees to keep up with the rapid pace of mobile innovation. The Mali T600 designs will be able to handle graphics with resolution of 4K by 2K, or far more pixel density than today’s high-definition TVs. They will also have adaptive, scalable texture compression and a 50 percent increase in performance in the same given area as the prior chips.

ARM has a total of 63 Mali licensees and 51 company partners. It has 34 licensees for the Mali T400 and eight for the Mali T600.

The ARM technology competes against rivals designed by Nvidia, which makes the Tegra series of chips, and Imagination Technologies.


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