ARM is introducing two new graphics-chip designs today that will be used in both low-end and high-end mobile graphics devices, from smartphones to tablets. The high-end chip will have 16 cores, or processing brains, to create rich graphics for our favorite gadgets.
The designs will be licensed by ARM’s customers and turned into graphics processing units (GPUs) for mobile devices. They include the ARM Mali-T760 high-end GPU (scalable up to 16 cores) and the ARM Mali-T720 low-end GPU. The products will help ARM fill out its product line as smartphone and tablet shipments grow from 1 billion units in 2013 to 1.8 billion units by 2017, based on estimates from ARM and market researcher Gartner. The devices balance energy efficiency and improved performance.
Cambridge, England-based ARM makes central processing units such as the Cortex devices, but its Mali GPUs have also become popular. Thanks to improved GPUs, the resolution of a smartphone has increased almost 14 times in just five years. ARM said that its customers shipped more than 2.5 billion ARM chips in the third fiscal quarter alone, driving revenue up 26 percent and earnings up 38 percent.
“We are seeing Mali GPUs go into a wide array of devices,” said Trina Watt, the vice president of solutions marketing at ARM. “Our partners are expanding the range. We have 84 licensees in total spread over 56 different partners.”
ARM is announcing the devices at its ARM TechCon conference in Silicon Valley. ARM Mali has seen its volumes grow 10 times in two years. Its partners shipped 152 million units in 2012 in more than 230 devices, and the number has already hit 300 million year-to-date in 2013. Mali is in 50 percent of Android tablets and 20 percent of Android smartphones. That is expected to increase over the next year. And Watt said that Mali is in 70 percent of digital TVs.
“The real volume growth is coming in the entry and midlevel markets,” Watt said.
The ARM Mali-T760 improves on energy consumption with better memory designs. It also has “transaction elimination,” or the elimination of unnecessary calculations. For instance, it will redraw only a part of a screen that changes in an animation or video. The Mali-T760 will have four times the energy efficiency of the older Mali-T604 device.
Many of ARM’s partners are shipping chips for use in sub-$50 smartphones. The ARM Mali T720 will be targeted at midrange and entry-level devices, particularly low-cost Android devices. It will introduce GPU Compute and OpenGL ES 3.0 to low-end devices.
“We’re focusing tightly on energy efficiency within the GPU and in the overall system,” said Andy Loats, the graphics product manager at ARM, in an interview.
Loats said that some customers expect their chips to have to display 4K, or UltraHD video, on mobile devices.
The ARM devices will show up in new devices before the Mobile World Congress event in Barcelona, Spain in February 2015. Devices may show up before that date, but the latest is that MWC date.