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Imagination Technologies unveils new GPU IP, talks about its future & the HSA Foundation

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by Lars-Göran Nilsson, 16 Jun 2012Features

ITProPortal met up with Imagination Technologies in Taiwan of all places, as the company is busy touring Asia with next stop being China.

In a press conference yesterday , the company also unveiled two new PowerVR Series6 - also known as Rogue - GPU IP cores in addition to the two already announced. We sat down for a chat with the company and asked a few questions about the HSA foundation, Caustic, Meta processors and a lot more.

A brief update on Rogue

Let's start with the biggest of today's announcements, the new PowerVR G6230 and G6430 GPU cores. Imagination Technologies added a bit more details as to how its Series6 GPUs work with the company even presenting a block diagram of the core entities.

The G6230 and G6430 are slightly larger IP cores than the already announced G6200 and G6400. Both are high-performance parts designed to use as little power as possible. In contrast, the G6200 and G6400 are designed to deliver the best performance per unit area.

It appears therefore that the 6x30 series will address other verticals that the G6x00 series won't, especially when die size is not a premium. The PowerVR Series6 has moved to a unified shader cluster array design, similar to that used by AMD in its latest series of GPUs. The 62x0 parts consist of two clusters whereas the 64x0 parts have four clusters.

It's important to note that these are just reference IP designs from Imagination Technologies and technically, if an IP licensee would want to use say eight or even 16 clusters, then this would be possible and only limited by die space.

IP licensees can also create MP versions of the Series6 - much like what Apple is using in the A5X SoC that powers its devices - to further help boost performance for both 3D and computational tasks.

The Series6 GPU core sports no less than three co-processors, one that handles the PowerVR tile based deferred rendering, one that deals with pixels and one optional co-processor for tessellation.

Imagination Technologies claims the 6x30 IP cores are up to 20 times more powerful than the Series5 IP cores (as revealed exclusively by ITProPortal last year) and the company is expecting even higher performance depending on partner implementations and as such computational performance of one Teraflop is entirely possible.

Imagination Technologies holds over 50 percent of the mobile GPU market share, with Qualcomm owns a third (ed : worth noting that Qualcomm uses its own IP acquired from ATI, in its SoC). ARM only holds a mere 2.6 percent while Nvidia's 3.2 percent is equally surprising. As far as the pure IP houses are concerned, Imagination Technologies has close to 79 percent market share.

New Video Encoder/Decoder units ahoy!

Beyond the two new graphics cores, Imagination Technologies also announced a pair of new video IP cores, the PowerVR D4500MP and E4500MP, with the D standing for Decoder and the E for Encoder.

The new PowerVR Series4 video codecs are targeting the post HD area and can handle 4K by 2K videos at up to 60fps using H.264 encoding at L5.2; that's 30MB of data per second. That requires some serious processing power, and in addition, Imagination Technologies has moved from 8 to 10-bit video processing which requires an even more powerful video encoder/decoder.

The target market for the Series4 video codecs includes high-end digital cameras, settop-box solutions, 4K TV sets and just about anything working either with very high resolution video, or multiple streams of 1080p video simultaneously. Beyond H.264 support, the Series4 also has support for MPEG2, VC-1 and VP6/8 - the latter also known as WebM, which is an open standard used by Google among others - as well as offering support for APIs such as OpenMax and DirectX.

More about Meta & Ensigma

Imagination Technologies also has a little known processor technology known as Meta which is a low power, multi-threaded single-core SoC architecture. So far it has mostly been used in audio applications and today's announcement was related to support for additional Dolby Digital audio codecs.

However, the interesting thing is that the Meta processors can also be used in devices like smart TVs as the main processor, as the Meta processors are compatible with Android, Linux and MeOS - a real time OS made by Imagination Technologies - so a company could use a pair of Meta processors.

The reason as to why you'd want to do this is because it would be cheaper to develop two similar products, as regardless of the end purpose of a Meta processor, the design process is apparently the same and as such chip makers could save time and engineering resources by doing two slightly different implementations.

Then there's Imagination Technologies clever Ensigma RPU, a programmable radio that can be configured to support most digital TV standards - stationary or mobile - most radio standards and 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi as well as Bluetooth 3.0. This allows for a very low cost solution for the chip makers, as they can simply configure the radio part in their SoCs according to their customers' demands. The latest addition here is support for the Wi-Fi Direct protocol, which compared to other announcements today is fairly minor news.

The low down on Heterogeneous System Architecture Imagination

Technologies is a founding member of the HSA Foundation which was formally launched a few days ago. One of the core focuses of the HSA Foundation is to create an abstract software layer between the hardware and the generally used APIs that will present software developers as a single heterogeneous entity, regardless of whether the CPU or the GPU handles the tasks.

Imagination Technologies also believes that we'll be seeing new types of processors in the future and is already working towards positioning itself as a major player.

Back in December of 2010 Imagination Technologies announced that it had acquired Caustic Graphics, a company that was working on enabling real-time ray tracing. To date the only things that have come out of this purchase has been a couple of SDK's in the shape of OpenRL and Brazil.

The company is however working hard on finding new ways on how to implement real-time ray tracing in future mobile solutions and in the short term, Imagination Technologies should be announcing some kind of IP solution based on Caustic Graphics work. As to the specifics of this, the company didn't want to share any details, but informed us that we should expect an announcement later this year.

There's no denying that we're living in interesting times as far as the humble processor is concerned. Imagination Technologies is pushing for more open standards and is betting heavily on GPU compute applications, especially in the mobile space where the processor power of many devices is limited due to the power envelope that it has to fit into.

As such, the GPU could in many ways end up improving the performance of the applications we're using on our mobile devices beyond games, as there's plenty of processing power that lies dormant just waiting to be tapped and this is part of what the HSA Foundation is all about. It will take time, but the next couple of years are likely to bring about a lot of change.

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