ARM: GPGPU Will Boost Capabilities, Lower Cost of Mobile Application Processors

Highly-Parallel Stream Computing to Open New Doors for Mobile Chips, Reduce Their Complexity

by Anton Shilov
03/28/2013 | 07:14 PM

Nowadays application processors for mobile devices pack a lot of various hardware, including general-purpose processing cores, graphics cores, image processors, controllers and so on. End-users demand improvements in all aspects of usage, hence mobile chips are getting incredibly complex. With the rise of system-on-chips powered by modern graphics architectures that support GPGPU technology, the need for many special-purpose components will vanish, but the doors to new features will open.


Thanks to the fact that contemporary graphics processing units (GPUs) feature a relatively high number of comparatively simplistic processing units, it is possible to use them for highly-parallel general-purpose (GP) tasks. Such usage model is called GPGPU and it is on the rise on personal computer these days. Thanks to the fact that the latest ARM Mali T600, Imagination PowerVR 6 and Qualcomm Adreno 300 support GPGPU through OpenCL application programming interface, they can be used to make better photos of videos. Provided that the GPUs are not too power hungry, their usage eliminates necessity to integrate special-purpose hardware, such as image processors or video stabilizers, thus, reducing cost of the chip.

“You might be able to save some cost somewhere in the SoC by cutting out a bit of hardware that you had and run it on the GPU instead. So cost reduction and an improved capability. So maybe they will cut out some of the ISP and they will do it on the GPU because the silicon is already there, it is power efficient, it's a quicker way of doing [it], you get a cost reduction, performance goes up,” said Ian Smythe, director of marketing at ARM, in an interview with The Inquirer web-site.

Alternatively, GPGPU technology can be utilized to process demanding desktop-class applications on mobile devices, such as smartphones or tablets, a clearly interesting opportunity.

The main question is when the software developers actually start to take advantage of OpenCL and GPGPU technologies. At present there are not a lot of devices based on the latest graphics architectures, so there are no immediate financial gains because of the implementation. However, a year from now hundreds of millions of devices will use ARM Mali T600, Imagination PowerVR 6 or Qualcomm Adreno 300 graphics cores and all of them will be ready for a new generation of apps. It looks like software developers have to start the work now.