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ARM steps up action in 3D graphics processing

Posted: 10 Jun 2008 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:3D graphics processor? multiprocessing? OpenGL?

ARM Holdings plc has developed a multiprocessing version of its Mali 3D graphics processor architecture that is available for license. ARM is talking to all the major silicon vendors in the "mobile space," according to an executive, who said ARM is in discussions with five or six companies.

Smart architecture
The Mali-400MP is based upon the previously established Mali-200 and takes the same approach to rendering graphics; that of a graphics pipeline in which an image is treated as a series of triangles with textures surfaces. This is the approach to graphics depiction required by the OpenGL standard set by the Khronos Group industry consortium.

Members of the Khronos Group formally ratified OpenGL ES 2.0 for embedded systems recently.

The Mali-400MP has one geometry or vertex processor and up to four fragment or pixel processors. The core has been designed for implementation in 45nm or 32nm silicon. The vertex processor within the Mali-400MP core is 3x more capable than the same processor in the Mali-200, according to Chris Porthouse, a senior product manager. It can process up to 30 million triangles per second compared with 10 million triangles per second in the Mali-200, although it is not clear whether this is related to clock speed.

With four fragment processors the Mali-400 is capable of more than billion pixels per second. This is based on the assumption that the core would be operated at a clock frequency of 275MHz, Porthouse said. In the documentation provided by ARM, it was shown that the Mali-400 is capable of rendering 1pixel per processor per clock cycle. The results are based on simulation of the core and the running of the 3D MobileMark benchmark from Futuremark Oy, according to Porthouse. The four processors can be powered down between frames to save power.

There is a so-called L2 cache memory included within the Mali-400MP design that is configurable by the licensor. ARM did not indicate what minimum or maximum sizes of memory are possible.

More features
The Mali-400MP would extend the capability of the Mali range of graphics processors, allowing them to address high-definition TV and STBs as well as HD display within mobile devices, for example where they are provided with a picoprojector. The automotive digital dashboard is another application that the Mali-400MP could address. "We need to have a design that scales," he said. ARM also provides software for the Mali-400MP in the form of drivers, middleware, Java applets and tools.

A Mali-400MP core with two fragment processors implemented using a 65nm CMOS process would occupy about 9mm?, whereas with one fragment processor it would occupy 5mm?, according to Porthouse.

This would mean that the vertex processor is less than 1mm? in size and the fragment processor occupies 4mm?. It was not clear whether the design as benchmarked for area included any cache memory.

"The customers we're talking to are looking at 45nm. One is working on 65nm going to 45nm and one is targeting 32nm, but most are at 45nm," said Porthouse. "We're engaging with all the major silicon vendors in the mobile space and the major ones in STB," he said.

When asked how many that was, Porthouse said: "We're in serious discussions with five or six [companies]," Porthouse said.

- Peter Clarke
EE Times Europe





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