ARM's next-generation 'Mali-Cetus' display processor is tailor-made for VR


It's a rare occasion for an Android user on the lookout for a new phone to pay much, if any attention to a device's GPU. And that is because, unlike on a laptop or desktop PC, a smartphone's display unit is firmly tied to its chipset – or in other words, a Snapdragon 835 will have pretty much the same raw graphics capabilities, regardless of which device it's put into.

As a consequence, the mobile GPU scene is pretty much devoid of hype – well, most of the time, anyway. Now is an exception to this rule, as ARM recently announced its latest development in the field: 'Mali-Cetus', as is its official (and extremely awkward) name, is the chip designer's latest, completely new mobile GPU architecture, made to replace the currently employed Mali.

Why is this exciting, though? Consider the following: today's mobile display processors do, in fact, serve pretty much all of the everyday consumer's needs, but they are still built on top of a years-old architecture which never had in mind to accommodate such use cases. Mali-Cetus, on the other hand, is made with HDR, VR, and 4K displays in mind. Thus, such uses will be directly supported by the chip's design, which will offer more raw processing capabilities with a smaller power consumption fingerprint.


To achieve that, the architecture has a couple of tricks up its sleeve. Firstly, it can composite more display layers – eight, which is up from the previous generation's maximum of seven. In practice, this means that many of Android's features whose usage tends to eat up those very same layers, such as Nougat's split-screen mode, can now be handled much more gracefully by the hardware. Also, in cases of displays with a 4K resolution, the picture can be split into multiple, smaller layers, each of which can be processed concurrently with the others, thus keeping clock speeds low and reducing power consumption.

The latter of these will be good news to VR enthusiasts, as it means that the coveted 4K resolution, which makes a big difference in visual quality, will be both easier to achieve and less battery-draining, hopefully enticing more phone manufacturers to include it in their devices.

Lastly, arguably the biggest difference from the previous generation is the addition of the so-called 'coprocessor interface', which would allow manufacturers to put their own chosen component to differentiate from the competition. While this opens up the possibility of third-party components making their way into the processor, for now ARM offers only one option. This is called the 'Assertive Display block', and is a special-purpose coprocessor intended for use in HDR.

But don't get overly excited – since the new architecture has just been announced, it's unlikely it will be available to consumers very soon. While the smartphone industry itself flies at a breakneck pace, the components powering it tend to move quite a bit slower. In fact, ARM hasn't announced anything regarding Mali-Cetus' availability, which relies on manufacturers (think Qualcomm, Samsung, Huawei) actually implementing it into its hardware. So, unfortunately, we wouldn't expect next year's flagships to have a new, superpowered GPU just yet.

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8 Comments

1. Zack_2014

Posts: 677; Member since: Mar 25, 2014

Nice seeing ARM stepping up their game finally.

2. sgodsell

Posts: 7365; Member since: Mar 16, 2013

ARM has always been stepping up with new improvements, all the time. It's just their GPUs were lacking a little behind. Most likely Samsung's Exynos series will implement this new GPU for next year. Qualcomm sticks to their own Adreno GPUs.

3. sgodsell

Posts: 7365; Member since: Mar 16, 2013

VR/MR/AR is really going to take off with mobile GPUs like these and 4k displays

4. Ordinary

Posts: 2454; Member since: Apr 23, 2015

This time Mali-G71 20MP is better than Adreno 540.

5. sgodsell

Posts: 7365; Member since: Mar 16, 2013

Who knows, especially since Qualcomm is constantly working on their SoCs, including their Adreno GPUs. As it stands today their current SD 835 currently supports 4k and VR.

6. TechieXP1969

Posts: 14967; Member since: Sep 25, 2013

GPU's on mobile are not exciting, because games on mobile aren't that exciting. It's not like x86, where your choice of GPU can make or break you. Desktop GPU's don't have to suffer the constraints mobile versions do. On the desktop you basically have an endless supply of power, you have the option to overclock, you have the option to install as many as 4 GPU's on many motherboards. You have all forms of cooling and its a modders dream to chose from so many options. With mobile its WYSIWYG. Your only difference on mobile is games that were meant to be played at 60FPS, can your GPU push this limit. Then you have to consider platform. On Android, GPU's don't offer the same benefit as IOS because the games for example, don't have direct hardware access. If it did, Android would be king easily in this area. The vast majority of apps on mobile don't need powerful GPU's. So unless you are specifically into gaming, it is a pointless metric other than bragging. A chip specifically optimized for VR, I am sure will be great for improving the experience. But right now, VR is boring, expensive and I haven't seen anything worth the hype....YET! The Samsung Gear VR is a nice addon for their phones, but it isnt offering nothing all that great. Dev support is still lacking and that is where Samsung needs to really get onboard. If Samsung could really sign up some great gaming devs like Sega, Nintendo, EA and many others, they could really take over this new segment. We already all have the power in the chips, we need the apps to show it off.

7. joey_sfb

Posts: 6794; Member since: Mar 29, 2012

Mobile Gaming is here to stay whether you like it or not. These days kid get their first gaming experience from Mobile rather than PC. https://venturebeat.com/2016/12/21/worldwide-game-industry-hits-91-billion-in-revenues-in-2016-with-mobile-the-clear-leader/

8. ibend

Posts: 6747; Member since: Sep 30, 2014

right, most people already have smartphone, and only few of them actually have game console or gaming PC. most mobile gaming (like 99.9% of them) is repetitive, and get boring really fast.. but, new game titles keep coming, and it's easy to support smaller game developer, and you can see them adding more content to your favorite games :D but, we need AAA games, like something with ultra graphics, 100+ hours of gameplay, and no IAP (paid DLC still fine)

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