Samsung Unveils new Mobile GPU

Article By : Rick Merritt

New GPU "could put it on par with Apple," says Jon Peddie

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Samsung has designed a mobile graphics processor that it claims in simulations delivers leading performance/watt. The GPU sports a novel architecture that could make it broadly useful from smartphones to supercomputers, according to an analyst briefed on the work.

“This is really a big deal — it’s the first new GPU design in 10 years,” said Jon Peddie, principal of Jon Peddie Research who broke news of the work in a blog on his website.

The news comes at a time of growing competition in graphics processors. Apple is working on a mobile GPU that could emerge in its next-generation iPhones. Meanwhile, Intel’s former CEO said earlier this year that the company aims to release in 2019 a discrete GPU presumably for PCs, a design believed to be led by Raja Korduri, former head of AMD’s graphics group who was hired by Intel late last year.

The Samsung GPU could “put it on par with Apple,” said Peddie. “The only question is where and when Samsung’s GPU will show up.”

“This design is so good, they could deploy it in every platform — it’s a function of their ambition. If I owned it, it would be in everything including cockpits and supercomputers.”

The design believed to be taped out is expected to first appear in a Samsung Exynos smartphone processor. The company has not decided whether it will license the technology.

To hit a new level of performance/watt, the architecture bundles multiple instructions into a group that can be executed in a single cycle. However, it does not use the sorts of VLIW techniques that have fallen out of fashion because they generate other processing overheads.

The design is being led by Chien-Ping Lu, a graphics veteran who started his career at Nvidia designing an integrated graphics chip for PCs. Later, Mediatek hired him to design a mobile GPU. Peddie said that the Mediatek design was competitive, but the company decided to continue to use licensed cores from Arm and Imagination Technologies.

After Mediatek, Lu spent less than a year at Intel before leaving for AI startup NovuMind. He left the startup less than a year ago to join Samsung, which has been quietly working on graphics designs for many years.

The GPU work comes to light at a time of fierce competition between Samsung and Apple. Samsung maintained its leading market share in smartphones last year, selling more than 317 million handsets, according to International Data Corp. However, Apple led in the fourth quarter and shipped more than 215 million smartphones in the year overall, it said.

If Samsung is aggressive in using and licensing its technology, it would be especially disruptive for Qualcomm, the leading provider of mobile processors. Samsung currently makes Qualcomm’s leading-edge Snapdragon and 5G baseband processors.

— Rick Merritt, Silicon Valley Bureau Chief, EE Times

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