ARM Takes Aim at VR, AR, Mobile Gaming with New GPU, CPU

Company officials say the Mali-G71 GPU and Cortex-A73 CPU will drive the development of smartphones that will better run emerging applications.


Over almost a decade ARM has become the key silicon player in the mobile space, with its low-power chip designs running most of the smartphones in the world.

Officials with the company see the smartphone's future as more than just a communications and Internet access tool. The device will become the portal through which emerging technologies—such virtual and augmented reality, mobile gaming, machine learning and computer vision—will run, and ARM executives want to ensure their system-on-a-chip (SoC) designs are powering these more powerful smartphones.

At the Computex 2016 show May 30 in Taiwan, ARM officials announced the next generation of the company's mobile CPU and GPU cores that they said will offer the performance and efficiency needed for these new workloads. Chip makers including Samsung Electronics, MediaTek and HiSilicon have taken licenses to manufacture SoCs based on the new designs, and ARM officials said new devices powered by the chips will hit the market next year. Production SoCs will be released later this year.

The new products come at a time when smartphone sales continue to slow, due in large part to a saturation of developed markets, new Chinese manufacturers moving up the ranks and struggles by market leaders Apple and Samsung, according to IDC analysts. Research from the market research firm found that 334.9 million smartphones shipped worldwide in the first quarter, a slight uptick from the 334.3 million shipped during the same period last year, but the smallest year-over-year growth ever in the smartphone space.

However, ARM officials said that with the rise of mobile computing applications such as virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) and Internet of things (IoT) in the consumer space, smartphones will take an even more central role in people's lives, and will need to offer the power and efficiency needed to run these workloads.

"It's very much about enabling these user experiences on the smartphone," James Bruce, director of ARM's Mobile Segment, told eWEEK. "The focus of both the [new ARM] CPU and GPU is to really deliver that user experience while delivering these efficiencies."

ARM's Mali-G71 GPU will be built with ARM's new Bifrost architecture, which will bring a 50 percent increase in graphics performance, 20 percent jump in power efficiency and 40 percent better performance per mm2 than its predecessor, officials said. The performance of the Mali-G71 running in a smartphone will offer the same performance as a discrete GPU in a current midrange notebook, according to Jakub Lamik, vice president of product marketing at ARM.

The innovations in the new GPU include scaling up to 32 shader cores—twice as many as in the current Mali-T880—which gives it the performance of some notebook-discrete GPUs. The GPU will support standards for VR and AR such as Vulkan, and can provide up to 120Hz refresh rate and support 4K screens for high VR performance.

"VR is one of the key drivers in the new user experience," Lamik told eWEEK.

The Cortex-A73 CPU, based on the 64-bit ARMv8-A core and built on Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing's 10mm FinFET process technology for improved performance and efficiency, will offer a 30 percent performance improvement and 30 percent efficiency jump over the current 16mm Cortex-A72. It also is small enough to be used in ARM's big.Little configurations, which offer disparate CPU cores for different workloads for increased performance and efficiency.

Ten manufacturing partners have licensed the Cortex-A73 to date, including HiSilicon, MediaTek and Marvell Technologies.