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ARM GPU to bring smartphone-quality graphics to wearables

Posted: 22 Oct 2015     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:ARM  GPU  processor  IoT  wearable 

ARM has announced a low power GPU for wearables and the Internet of Things (IoT). According to the company, the 32bit Mali 470 offers smartphone-quality graphics and requires half the power of ARM's previous graphics processor generation using the same process geometry.

"Every company that contributes IP or components into [IoT] devices needs to do their bit to reduce the amount of power needed by those electronics," said ARM product manager Dan Wilson. "We've made a range of micro-architectural optimisations to power Mali 470," he said.

ARM targeted three areas to cut power in Mali. The company updated most of the chip's processing blocks within the scheduling pipeline to operate on quads, while reducing the frequency of control and state-update operations. ARM also increased the amount of clock gating in areas including LI caches and completed bypassed blocks.

Although graphics processors often use floating-point arithmetic, it consumes a lot of power. ARM hopes to use fixed-point arithmetic in Mali 470 "wherever possible and where it doesn't hurt performance," Wilson said.

Mali 470 block diagram

Mali 470 block diagram. Source: ARM

"ARM scrutinizes every milliwatt across the entire SoC," said Mark Dickinson, VP and GM of ARM's multimedia processing group. "Tuning efficiency is particularly relevant for devices requiring sophisticated graphics on a low power budget such as wearables, entry-level smartphones and IoT devices," he said.

The GPU is optimised for the OpenGL ES 2.0 API and drivers, which Wilson said is very power efficient. The majority of Android, Android Wear and Tizen devices use the OpenGL ES API, Wilson continued. Mali 470 can replace ARM's previous generation GPU there is no need to re-optimise applications.

"Even wearables are going to require an immersive experience," said Jim McGregor principal analyst at Tirias Research. With greater power efficiency and support for Open GL ES 2.0, the new Mali 470 will enable...the vibrant displays and touch interfaces users have become accustomed to on smartphones," he added.

The multi-core configurable Mali 470 can be used with 64bit and 32bit CPUs, such as the ARM Cortex-A7 or Cortex-A53 processors. Wilson said the GPU was designed as 32bit because most wearable and IoT devices don't need to use more than 4GB memory. ARM promises the device will offer "optimal energy efficiency" for screen resolutions up to 640x640p in single-core configurations and up to 1080p in multi-core configurations.

The GPU has attracted yet-unnamed licensees who will likely ship products based on Mali 470 at the end of 2016.

- Jessica Lipsky
  EE Times

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