Some devices, applications or use cases require the absolute peak of performance capability in order to deliver on their requirements. Some devices, applications or use cases however, need to save every little bit of energy expenditure in order to deliver extended battery power and run within the bounds of a thermally limited form factor. So how do we decide which end of the spectrum to target? Here in Team Mali, we don’t. Mali, the number 1 shipping GPU in the world, has reached such heights partly because it is able to target every single use case across this range. From the most powerful of mobile VR headsets needing lightning-fast refresh rates, to the tiniest of smartwatches required to run for as long as physically possible, there really is a Mali GPU for every occasion.
This mini-series of blogs will first introduce the overall scalability and flexibility of the ARM Mali range before taking a deeper dive into two products from either end of the spectrum. We will examine how these products have incorporated Mali in order to target the perfect balance of performance and efficiency their device requires. Not only does this flexibility help our partners reduce their time to market but it also means they can carefully balance resources to target the ideal positioning for their product.
There are three product roadmaps in the Mali family; Ultra low power, High area efficiency and High performance and these groupings allow partners to easily select the right set of products for their device’s needs. The Ultra low power range includes the Mali-400 GPU, one of the first in the ARM range of GPUs and still the world’s favourite option with over 25%* market share all by itself. The latest product in this roadmap is Mali-470, featuring advanced energy saving features to bring smartphone quality graphics to low power devices like wearables and Internet of Things applications. It halves the power consumption of the already hyper efficient Mali-400 in order to provide even greater device battery life and extended end use.
The high area efficiency roadmap is focused around providing optimum performance in the smallest possible silicon area to reduce cost of production for mass market smartphones, tablets and DTVs. IP in this roadmap includes Mali-T820 & Mali-T830, a pairing of products which incorporates the cost and energy saving features of their predecessor, Mali-T720, with the superior power of the simultaneously released high performance Mali-T860. The first cost efficient ARM Mali GPUs to feature ARM Frame Buffer Compression, these represented a big step up in terms of the flexibility to balance power and performance.
The high performance roadmap is exactly as you might expect based on the name. It features the latest and greatest in GPU design to optimize performance for high end use cases and premium mobile devices. The Mali-T880 represents the highest performing GPU based upon ARM’s famous Midgard architecture and is powering many of today’s high end devices including the Samsung Galaxy S7, the Huawei P9 smartphone as well as a whole host of awesome standalone VR products. You may have read recently of our brand new high performance GPU on the market, Mali-G71. The change in naming format indicates another step up in Mali GPU architecture with the advent of the Bifrost architecture. The successor to Midgard, Bifrost has been strategically designed to support Vulkan, the new graphics API from Khronos, which is giving developers a lot more control as well as a great new feature set especially for mobile graphics. Not only that but it’s also been designed to exceed the requirements of today’s advanced content, like 360 video and high end gaming, and support the advanced requirements of growing industries like virtual reality, augmented reality and computer vision.
A large part of the flexibility inherent in the Mali range of products is down to the inbuilt scalability. Mali-400 came into being as the first dual core implementation of the original Mali-200 GPU once it became apparent there was a lot to be gained from this approach. High end Midgard based GPUs like Mali-T860 and Mali-T880 scale from 1 to 16 cores to allow even greater choice for our partners. We’ve seen configurations featuring up to 12 of those available cores at the top end of today’s premium smartphone to support specific use cases like mobile VR, where the requirements push the boundaries of mobile power limits. The new Bifrost GPU, Mali-G71, takes that to another level again with the ability to scale up to a possible 32 cores. The additional options were deemed necessary in order to comfortably support not only today’s premium use cases like mobile VR, but also allow room to adapt to the growing content complexity we’re seeing every day.
After the customer has established their required number of cores there is still a lot of scope for flexibility within the configuration itself. Balances can be reached between power, performance and efficiency in the way the chipset is implemented in order to provide another level of customizable options. The following images show a basic example of the flexibility inherent in the configuration of just one Mali based chipset but this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Example optimization points of one Mali GPU
In the next blog we’ll be examining an example of a Mali implementation in a current high performance device and how the accelerated performance and graphical capability supports next-level mobile content. Following on from that we’ll look at a device with requirements to keep power expenditure to a minimum and how Mali’s superior power and bandwidth saving technologies have been implemented to achieve this. The careful balance between power and efficiency is an eternal problem in the industry but one we are primed to address with the flexibility and scalability of the ARM Mali range.
*Unity Mobile (Android) Hardware Stats 2016-06