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ARM graphics core gains traction

Posted: 11 Feb 2010 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:ARM graphics? GPU? processor?

ARM Holdings plc has signed up two licenses for its Mali graphics cores in its Q4 bringing the total number of Mali licenses signed to 27, and giving the company enough encouragement to boast of signings that include Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd.

"We're starting to talk about the fact that one of those Mali licenses was with Samsung who's obviously a leader in the industry and an opinion former in the industry as well. So that's very encouraging for our graphics licensing," Warren East, president and CEO, told an analysts conference convened to discuss the company's fourth quarter financial results.

"Mali is pretty new. Royalty is starting but it is almost negligible," East told EE Times, but he made the point that it can take three or four years for significant royalties to flow from work done by licensees to get ARM cores into silicon.

As ARM acquired the Mali graphics technology three-and-a-half years ago the company should be on the verge of a breakthrough with graphics royalties starting to climb in subsequent quarters. This would also put ARM into competition with Imagination Technologies Group plc, a former partner.

"We are the new kid on the block. Imagination is very much the incumbent," East said before adding that ARM used to work with Imagination and helped it get many design wins. "As such we only have ourselves to blame," he said.

But East pointed to the graphics traction ARM is starting to get. "We're now up to 27 licenses. There are some who have niche product lines and others who can move the market." Some of the better known licensees include: Samsung, STMicroelectronics, MediaTek and ST-Ericsson.

Roadmap control
ARM acquired Falanx Microsystems AS (Trondheim, Norway), a developer of graphics processor cores, for an undisclosed sum in June 2006. ARM had previously worked with Imagination to aid the design-in of its cores with Imagination's PowerVR graphics cores.

Samsung has been a user of Imagination graphics cores and is a sufficiently large company that it will have multiple design teams, some using PowerVR from Imagination and some using Mali.

"One of the factors that made us want to go into graphics for ourselves was so we could control the roadmap. The need to couple CPU and GPU in a processor environment is another factor."

East said the desire to allow software to make use of multiple CPU and multiple GPU resources dynamically was clearly on the research agenda but was also a non-trivial problem. "As an industry we are some way away from it. We will have to grapple with the software problem for several years," East concluded.

- Peter Clarke
EE Times Europe

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