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Mobile Graphics: Ten Things You Need to Know

The stratospheric rise of mobile gaming has coincided with the growing graphics and compute capabilities of mobile GPUs. Here are the top 10 things you should know.
By Arm Editorial Team
Mobile gaming

Mobile GPUs have often lived in the shadow of their more powerful cousins in desktops and data centers, but that is changing.

So, what do you need to know about mobile graphics and GPUs? And what’s happening next?

Mobile graphics are young by comparison

Research on building graphic chips optimized for mobile began around 1998. Falanx, one of the first developers, was incubated at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in 2001. Arm bought the company in 2006 and our first Mali graphics processor debuted in 2007.

But they’ve taken off rapidly

The timing was great. Mali GPUs debuted just as smartphones were coming to market. Larger, full color screens needed dedicated processing power. Then came December 11 2009 where Finnish game developer Rovio created a game pitting pigs against some very Angry Birds.

To date, our partners have shipped over 8 billion Mali GPUs for different segments. That’s 1 Mali GPU for every person on Earth! By contrast, around 156.5 million GPUs for PCs gets shipped annually. That’s 143.6 million shipped as integrated graphics in laptops and desktops and 12.7 million premium add-in graphics cards for gamers and enthusiasts.

How do mobile GPUs differ?

Power consumption: mobile GPUs can perform similar tasks far more efficiently. A high-end desktop graphics card consumes nearly 200 watts. A mobile SoC that includes several CPUs and GPUs will consume 9 watts or less. Benchmarks for MediaTek’s flagship Dimensity 9000 (which features the Arm Mali-G710 GPU), for instance, show it churning 160 frames per second on 6.8 watts.

How is this done?

Mobile architects have redesigned how the chips operate. Mobile GPUs, for example, take advantage of tile memory, which effectively allows the chip to process more triangles in parallel and reduce data transfers. Fewer transfers, less energy. Different technologies have to be added to avoid rendering objects invisible to humans, as well as further streamlining asks. Ask Dr. Arm: he knows more.

But surely there are things that mobile GPUs can’t do?

Yes, but the gap is likely thinner than you think. Ray tracing, a computer graphics technique that generates realistic lighting and shadows in gaming scenes, has come to mobile.

64-bit is also now here, with almost every game now ported to run on 64-bit. 32-bit only is a thing of the past! Frameworks from Unity and others to optimize game performance are extensively used by mobile developers. This includes Adaptive Performance, a package from Unity that allows developers to fine-tune their games.

Smartphone GPUs are also spreading to other markets

Like desktop GPUs, mobile GPUs are adept at performing the parallel calculations for machine learning (ML) and AI. With GPU cores, a smart speaker can perform voice recognition and voice response without the delay, cost and extra energy of going to the cloud. Privacy is also enhanced as your voice commands don’t leave the house.

Similarly, smart cameras for household security, retail tracking or taking care of elderly relatives can perform better while consuming less energy by adding a growing diet of GPUs to the mix.

Mobile GPUs will become the gateway for AR and VR

Launched in 2016, Pokémon Go, became the first widespread example of augmented reality (AR) in mobile gaming. In the future, AR and virtual reality (VR) experiences will continue to come through the smartphone or the smartphone in conjunction with a headset or smartglasses running on a similar diet of energy efficient CPUs and GPUs. Expect further developments with the metaverse.

Pokémon Go, the mobile gaming sensation from 2016

They will also play a role in fighting fraud

Truepic has created a platform that can illuminate the chain of custody on a photo. With it, news organizations can show how a photo has been manipulated or an insurance company can certify the genuineness of an accident scene.

The mobile GPU angle, of course, is that smartphones have become the de facto lens on reality. Over 91% of photos get taken by smartphones where images are increasingly created by a coordinated effort of GPUs, CPUs and software. GPUs perform tasks like tone mapping, noise reduction, and color conversion.

But isn’t computational photography with techniques like digital zoom a form of image manipulation? Yes, but similar verification techniques can be deployed here too.

The future of mobile GPUs

The magical combination of high performance and low power on mobile GPUs will continue in the future. But the end-user is demanding more compute power than ever. Largely greater performance and efficiency so they can play their favourite AAA mobile games for longer.

In many ways, the smartphone has become a victim of its own success, with gaming and visual experiences becoming more immersive and exciting. Arm’s GPUs are a big part of this success story, setting high expectations as end-users continue to demand more on their mobile device.

BONUS: Introducing Immortalis

Every year, Arm launches new Mali GPUS. However, this year we decided to go one step further with a brand-new flagship GPU called ‘Immortalis.’

Immortalis-G715 is designed for next wave of flagship Android smartphones coming to the market, offering high performance and the very best graphics features, like hardware-based ray tracing support for mobile. This ensures that Arm-based mobile devices deliver the very best gaming experiences.

Check out the video below to learn more!

New Immortalis GPU

Explore Gaming On Arm

Arm is at the heart of mobile gaming, a billion-dollar industry powered by billions of Arm-based devices.

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Editorial Contact

Brian Fuller and Jack Melling
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