arm mali

ARM made its name designing an architecture for low-power microprocessors that are the heart of devices that need long battery lives. But the company’s designs for graphics processors are stepping out of that shadow.

The Cambridge, England-based chip intellectual property design firm said that its partners shipped more than 150 million processors with the Mali graphics units in them, up from 50 million in 2011. The number is projected to hit 240 million in 2013.

The number of licensees has grown by 30 percent to 75 companies, which use the Mali designs in smartphones, tablets, and digital TVs.  The licensing company made the announcement at the Mobile World Congress event in Barcelona, Spain. At the show, ARM will demonstrate GPU Compute, or the use of ARM Mali graphics to handle nongraphics tasks. Key areas that benefit from GPU Compute are photography and games.

“ARM’s Mali has slowly snuck up on the embedded graphics markets, particularly in DTVs and Android tablets where they have established somewhat of a beachhead,” said Patrick Moorhead, an analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy. “Imagination, Qualcomm and Nvidia really need to keep an eye on what they doing in smartphones as ARM is making many strong moves.”

ARM’s Mali GPUs blend performance and power efficiency for smart devices where power consumption is a must. The GPUs are in more than 70 percent of graphics-enabled digital TVs. The GPUs are used in 50 percent of Android tablets and 20 percent of all Android smartphones. ARM’s Mali competes with homegrown graphics cores from Nvidia, Intel, and Imagination Technologies.

Smartphone shipments could hit 1.1 billion units in 2013, according to Strategy Analytics. As the market grows, so does the breadth of devices. With Mali GPUs, gadget makers can diversify their offerings based on the level of graphics fidelity needed. Mali delivers computational photography, face detection, and real-time gaming. The products using Mali graphics range in price from $50 to $650, said Kevin Smith, the vice president of strategic marketing for ARM’s multimedia processing division in an interview with VentureBeat.

“We’ve got wide adoption in diverse markets,” he said.

ARM’s Mali GPUs are designed for integration into a system-on-chip, or a chip that has a bunch of different functions. The GPU is married with a CPU (central processing unit) such as ARM’s Cortex-A series processor. About 95 percent of the Mali graphics processors shipped alongside an ARM Cortex-A processor last year. The number of combinations and choices for phone makers and consumers will keep multiplying this year.

“We are incredibly pleased to see the success enjoyed by ARM partners that have chosen Mali GPUs,” said Pete Hutton, the general manager of the media processing division of ARM. “This impressive market growth has been achieved by only a quarter of the current Mali licensees. In 2013 we look forward to even more of our licensees, who have transitioned to Mali GPUs for improved performance and short development cycles, bringing new solutions to market and enjoying success.”

Mali graphics are being used in Samsung’s Smart TV F8000, LG’s GA7900 and GA6400 smart TVs, Leadcore’s LC1810 smartphone, ST-Ericsson’s NovaThor U8500 ModAp, a variety of phones frm MediaTek, and more than 300 different devices made by Spreadtrum. The ST-Ericsson chips shipped in tens of millions of smartphones in 2012.

“Mediatek addresses a wide range of markets through scalable adaptable solutions,” said Johan Lodenius, the chief marketing officer and corporate vice president of Mediatek. “ARM Mali GPUs enable us to target markets quickly and introduce first class products with a short time to market.”

ARM said that the number of mass market smartphones using ARM Mali-400 and ARM Mali-450 GPUs will grow significantly this year. High-end phones will use the Mali-T600 family of graphics processors. MediaTek

In tablets, the ARM Mali appeared in the Google Nexus 10. It also shipped in Android tablets based on products from AllWinner and Rockchip.