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ARM: 2017 smartphones will exceed laptop graphics performance

Next year’s ARM-powered smartphones are going to be powerful. Very powerful.

ARM has laid its cards down for a mobile gaming future fuelled by VR. The chip architecture design company, which is behind the architecture for processors seen in phones including the Samsung Galaxy S7 and the iPhone 6S, has launched its new processor and graphics architecture at Computex, with particular focus on VR content consumption.

The new ARM Mali-G71 is of particular interest; mostly because the company reckons it’s faster than a Nvidia GeForce GTX 740M. Considering this is a low-end graphics card for laptops from 2013, you may scoff, but this is on a piece of kit the smaller than the size of your fingernail. It’s also more powerful than Intel HD Graphics 5500, found on last-generation Intel laptop processors.

ARM Mali G71 performance

The Mali-G71 is the first GPU based on ARM’s new ‘Bifrost’ architecture and has double the number of shader cores (the bits that do the bulk of the work) compared to the previous high-end Mali-T880 GPU, for a total performance increase of 50%. Despite this, it’s still 20% more power-efficient than the previous model, and the size of the GPU is only slightly larger. This means, in terms of the woolly-but-important comparison of ‘performance per square millimetre’, it’s 40% better than the T880.

With all of this, ARM is expecting to be able to deliver smoother performance with augmented reality, virtual reality and 120Hz 4K video, as well as an increase in the number of cameras and sensors on handheld devices.

Expect smartphone makers to make some huge claims about performance next year.

On the CPU size, the Cortex-A73 is the smallest but most efficient processor design ARM’s ever produced. Working to a 10 nanometre process, the company has produced a design that’s 30% faster in sustained performance than the previous-generation A72 (see graph below).

ARM Cortex A73 performance

This improvement is actually quite significant: where before you’d only get bursts of performance of 2.5GHz, the A73 is capable of running at a constant 2.4GHz without throttling. Throttling normally occurs due to excess heat, so the fact that this is no longer such a big problem bodes very well for next year’s smartphones, especially for CPU-intensive tasks.

Of course, sustained running at this peak will increase power consumption, so phone and chip manufacturers will have to choose exactly how much of this potential they actually want to use.

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