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iPhone code crumbs go back to U.K. graphics firm

Posted: 10 Jul 2007 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:iPhone code? U.K. graphics firm? MBX?

Imagination Technologies Group plc confirmed July 6 that it has licensed its graphics and video IP cores to an "international electronics systems company" under a multiple use licensing deal.

Industry observers agree that company is Apple Inc.

Evidence had been building in recent days that the PowerVR MBX core from U.K.-based Imagination Technologies is providing the graphics processing in the Apple iPhone.

Following the trail
Imagination had earlier declined to confirm the design win despite clever detective work by members of the Beyond 3D Forum revealing references to MBX in the Apple iPhone firmware.

The originator of the "PowerVR MBX in iPhone" discussion thread at the forum referred readers to a flash memory firmware dump on an iPhone developers' Wiki site called iPhone Dev Wiki.

The original evidence was some references to a device type identified as 0x78626D. 0x78626D happens to be xbm, which is mbx backwards, the writer asserted. However, another contributor to the forum pointed out that the MBX libraries are referred to in crash logs also listed at the same iPhone site.

Soon other forum members were finding references to graphics-related MBX device strings in cache dumps from the iPhone, including text strings such as "AppleMBXDevice(%p): Graphics hang with pending 2D blit." Some members of the forum appeared unfamiliar with Imagination or the PowerVR MBX core, wondering whether it was a standalone chip or included in the system chip.

Archive search
An elephantine memory or a diligent search of the EE Times archives would have reminded forum members that Samsung licensed the PowerVR MBX 3D graphics processor developed by Imagination Technologies Group plc, from ARM Holdings plc back in January 2004. At that time ARM was licensing out Imagination's cores as well as its own, although the two companies subsequently parted ways.

Of course Imagination has likely worked with Samsung to provide a later version of PowerVR MBX, and certainly one tuned for a more recent manufacturing process technology.

And so the evidence starts to become compelling, but what does Imagination say? A spokesman for Imagination said: "We can't say whether we are designed into the Apple iPhone." The spokesman added: "Samsung is an MBX licensee. They are active. They are a current licensee."

- Peter Clarke
EE Times Europe

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