Mali, the #1 shipping family of GPUs in the world, is celebrating 10 years with ARM this month! In honour of the occasion I’m going to take a look at some of the key milestones along the way and how Mali has developed to become the GPU of choice for today’s devices. Back in early 2006 Mali was just a twinkle in ARM’s eye, it wasn’t until June of that year that ARM announced the acquisition of Norwegian graphics company Falanx and ARM Mali was born.
This of course is not the real beginning of Mali’s story. Before Mali became part of the ARM family she was created by the Falanx team in Trondheim, Norway. In 1998 a small group of university students were tinkering with CPUs when someone suggested they try their hand at graphics. By 2001 a team of five had managed to prototype the Malaik 3D GPU with the intention of targeting the desktop PC market. They scouted a series of potential investors and whilst there was plenty of interest, they never quite got the support they were hoping for in order to break into the market.
Original (and shortlived) Falanx branding 2001, and their final logo, edvardsorgard's handwriting codified
Research showed them that the mobile market had the most potential for new entrants and that an IP model was potentially their best option. With that in mind, they set about building the GPU to make it happen. Having revised the architecture to target the smaller, sleeker requirements of the mobile market, the Falanx team felt the Malaik name needed streamlining too.
The four final Falanx founders
Mario Blazevic, one of the founders originally from Croatia, recognized “mali” as the Croatian word for “small” and this was deemed just right for the new mobile architecture. So, armed with the very first incarnation of Mali, they set about selling it. The prototype became Mali-55 and the SoC which featured it reached great success in millions of LG mobile phones. By this time they were six people and one development board and the dream was alive and well.
Meanwhile, ARM was very interested in the GPU market and had an eye on Falanx as a potential provider. Jem Davies, ARM fellow and VP of technology, was convinced the Falanx team’s culture, aspiration and skillset were exactly the right fit and ultimately recommended we moved forward. Over the course of a year, and a few sleepless nights for the Falanx team, the conversations were had, the value was established and the ARM acquisition of Falanx was completed on June 23rd 2006.
The Falanx team at acquisition
In February 2007 the Mali-200 GPU was the first to be released under the ARM brand and represented the start of a whole new level of graphics performance. It wasn’t long before it became apparent that the Mali-200 had a lot of unexploited potential and so its multi-core version, the Mali-400 entered development. The first major licence proved the catalyst for success when its performance took the world by storm and Mali-400 was well on its way to where it stands today, as the world’s most popular GPU with a market share of over 20% all by itself. Mali-400 is a rockstar of the graphics game and still the go to option for power sensitive devices.
In late 2010 the continued need for innovation saw us announce the start of a ‘New Era In Embedded Graphics With the Next-Generation Mali GPU’. The Mali-T604, the first GPU to be built on the Midgard architecture, prompted a ramping up of development activities and Mali began to expand into the higher performance end of the market whilst still maintaining the incredible power efficiency so vital for the mobile form.
At Computex 2013 the Mali-V500 became the first ARM video processor and complemented the Mali range of GPUs perfectly. Now on the way to the third Mali VPU this is a product gaining more and more importance, particularly in emerging areas like computer vision and content streaming. Just a year on from that we were celebrating the launch of the Mali-DP500 display processor and the very first complete Mali Multimedia Suite became a possibility. Part of the strength of the ARM Mali Multimedia Suite is the cohesive way the products work together and fully exploit bandwidth saving technologies like ARM Frame Buffer Compression. This allows our partners to utilise an integrated suite of products and reduce their time to market. Another key Mali milestone came in mid-2014 when the Mali-T760 GPU became a record breaker by appearing in its first SoC configuration less than a year after it was launched. By the end of the year ARM partners had shipped 550 million Mali GPUs during 2014.
This year saw the launch of the third generation of Mali GPU architecture, Bifrost. Bifrost is designed to meet the growing needs and complexity of mobile content like Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality, and new generation graphics APIs like Vulkan. The first product built on the Bifrost architecture is the Mali-G71 high performance GPU for premium mobile use cases. Scalable to 32 cores it is flexible enough to allow SoC vendors to customise the perfect balance of performance and efficiency and differentiate their device for their specific target market.
Today Mali is the number 1 shipping GPU in the world, 750 million Mali-based SoCs were shipped in 2015 alone. As the Mali family of GPUs goes from strength to strength I’d like to take this opportunity to wish her and her team a very happy birthday!