Apple’s been using GPU parts from Imagination Technologies since switching to its own in-house designed iOS device processors, starting with the iPhone 3Gs in 2009. This UK-based firm does not churn out actual chips. Instead, it licenses out its GPU designs and intellectual property to vendors like Apple, Intel, Qualcomm and many others – that’s why “they” call it a fabless semiconductor maker.
Now, Apple’s engine that powers iOS devices typically combines Imagination’s GPU and ARM’s CPU blueprints with some memory, I/O logic and other supporting functions on a single die, a solution known in the semiconductor industry as a system-on-a-chip (SoC).
Moreover, both Apple and Intel own a stake in Imagination, another indication of its importance to Apple’s mobile future. See, Imagination’s PowerVR graphics processors coupled with Apple’s efficient mobile operating system have been largely responsible for the smooth graphics, transitions and animations seen throughout iOS. It’s the reason iOS is the smoothest mobile OS out there.
At CES earlier this year, Imagination unveiled a new GPU that we suspect should make its way into upcoming iOS devices. Today, the company is detailing some of its more intricate aspects and boy does it make our hearts sing: it supports 4K resolutions and outperforms even Nvidia’s upcoming Tegra K1, apparently enabling the most powerful graphics yet in mobile phones and tablets…
The new PowerVR GX6650 was announced at CES 2014 back in January and today got spotlighted over at the Imagination blog. It offers low power consumption, an important pre-requisite for mobile devices where energy is at a premium.
The GX6650 owes this feat to Imagination’s PVR3C and PowerGearing G6XT technologies which compress textures, frame buffers and geometry. This kind of a solution is something competing chip makers have only started implementing recently.
Not only is PVRIC suitable for use with mainly static high-resolution home screens, it also shines in dynamic and performance-intensive gaming situations.
For those wondering, the GX6650 sports 192 cores.
To understand what graphics cores are and how they affect overall GPU performance, check out Imagination’s white paper here.
Most importantly, the GPU takes advantage of a massive pixel throughput rate allowing it to process twelve pixels per clock, a metric Imagination claims is “up to triple the number of our competitors”.
This comes into play in graphics-heavy shooters and FPS games, complex user interfaces and 4K content creation and editing applications.
Here’s the GPU diagram.
If you’re into these things, there are also six unified shading clusters and up to 50 percent higher texture rate compared to its direct competitors. And what those “direct competitors” might be?
How about Nvidia’s upcoming Tegra K1, whose specs leave Apple’s A7 in the dust?
Anand Lal Shimpi of AnandTech has put together a handy comparison chart seen below.
As you can see for yourself, on paper the GX6650 is a screamer.
It should outperform the Tegra K1 in terms of pixels and texels (texture pixels) per clock. To make the comparison even more comprehensible, the G6430 represents the GPU inside Apple’s A7 chip that powers the iPad Air, Retina iPad mini and iPhone 5s.
To top it all, Imagination today unveiled a new PowerVR Series2 V2500 imaging core which supports 4K video, high pixel count mobile photography and multiple CMOS sensors from all major vendors. As a bonus, it uses Imagination’s new PowerVR E5010 JPEG encoder that enables zero shutter lag apps because it encodes JPEGs without the use of external memory.
In turn, the iPhone maker gets multi-year access to Imagination’s current and future PowerVR-branded graphics and video GPU blueprints so clearly Apple is perfectly happy with PowerVR GPUs, not keen on changing its graphics supplier anytime soon.
No matter how you look at it, the GX6650 has plenty of graphics oomph to drive a rumored higher-resolution 12.9-inch iPad, a pair of bigger iPhones that fall into the phablet category, a standalone Apple television set with 4K resolution and what not.
Mobile graphics and CPU technologies are clearly maturing.
If I were Apple, I’d start thinking about dropping Intel and instead creating a desktop SoC to power a next-gen MacBook Air. Think CPU performance comparable to today’s Intel chips for notebooks, but sporting way faster graphics and ridiculous battery life.
Image top of post: Imagination’s new Soft Kitty OpenGL ES 3.0 technology demo which highlights the performance of PowerVR Rogue GPUs.