ARM plans multi-core graphics for mobiles

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Chip designer ARM will today unveil a multi-core graphics chip aimed at boosting the display performance of future phone handsets and other devices, bringing them closer to the capabilities available in desktop computers.

The Mali 400 MP graphics processing unit (GPU) is designed to scale with performance needs up to handling a billion pixels per second while keeping power consumption as low as possible, according to ARM. The first products featuring the technology are expected in 2010.

"The vision we have is that, going forwards, every device will have hardware acceleration for graphics. By 2012, pretty much every smartphone will have a GPU," said Chris Porthouse, ARM senior product manager for media hardware.

He said that recent touch-driven user interfaces showed the need for better displays, while some phones coming to market soon have micro projectors that will drive demand for higher resolutions than can fit onto a handset's built-in screen.

Meanwhile, people are already accessing more web content via their phone, and navigation software is also pushing the graphics capability of devices.

The move chimes with plans by Symbian to beef up graphics support in its smartphone operating system. A new graphics subsystem called ScreenPlay will support features such as transparency and will make use of any GPU hardware available.

Porthouse said ARM was working with key partners such as Symbian to ensure full support for Mali 400.

The design of the Mali 400 supports a vertex shader and up to four fragment processor cores for scalable performance. Chip makers that licence ARM's design can match the number of cores to the required performance level.

While each core can work on a separate area of the display simultaneously to speed processing, each can also be powered down individually, between frames if necessary, to cut power consumption.

Porthouse said that ARM was the first vendor to market with a scalable GPU suitable for mobiles.

"I think we're unique," he said.
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