iPhone chipmaker ARM says that its latest Mali GPU chip, due out in 18 months, will allow mobile devices to equal the power of current-gen gaming consoles like the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. But its long-term plans involve increased interaction between the CPU and GPU for future performance gains.
ARM told the Inquirer it has laid out its roadmap for the next 5 years and realized it can’t rely on Moore’s Law alone to meet the low-power/high-performance demands of next-gen mobile devices. Only by combining the power of the CPU with a GPU can future mobile devices deliver performance gains in gaming and other popular mobile tasks like computational photography. The iPhone 4 recently became the most-used camera on Flickr.
Battery power is also a big concern for any next-gen mobile chip. ARM told the Inquirer:
Battery technology doesn’t have that [Moore's Law] sort of growth” and that shrinking the process node does not necessarily solve the power problem. [A] combination of technologies is needed, such as very aggressive power management and multiple GPUs that can power up as required.
There may be one hitch in getting ARM’s chips into a future iPhone: Samsung. ARM said that, in terms of going from prototype chip to real-word mass manufacturing, nobody does it faster than Samsung. But Apple and Samsung are currently entangled in a legal battle over mobile phone patents. Apple’s latest A5 chip, found in the iPad 2, is manufactured by Samsung. The legal dispute could complicate their relationship in the future, although some analysts feel that Samsung could be willing to compartmentalize the dispute to maintain its profitable manufacturing business with Apple, which brings in billions in revenue every year. ARM’s latest chip, the Mali-400MP, powers Samsung’s newest flagship phone, the Samsung Galaxy S II.
In terms of the near future, ARM’s latest chip design, the Mali-T604, is being tested in prototype devices and set to appear on the market in 2012. ARM’s chips also power the Apple TV and other media devices. For that growing market, the chipmaker told website Techeye that its Mali chips will appear in a “large section of the digital TV market” toward the end of the year. The rumored Apple HDTV, perhaps?