Competitive Advantages of the Mali Graphics Architecture

by Falanx Microsystems


When mobile phones were first introduced, few could have predicted a future beyond simple text messaging. For 2004, however, research firm IDC projected sales of 93 million camera enabled mobile phones, with projections for 300 million camera phones by 2007. Similarly, the Yankee Group reported that mobile users downloaded 49 million games in 2004, and projected that consumers will spend $1 billion on mobile games in 2008.

In early 2005, Fox announced one-minute “mobisodes” (mobile episodes) of its hit thriller 24, while Verizon introduced a new multimedia service that will deliver news, sports, music videos and 3D games to mobile subscribers, with content providers including VH1, Comedy Central and NBC. Suddenly, users are asking their mobile phones to handle the same range of 2D, 3D and video formats that play on their desktop, and cell phone manufacturers must supply these capabilities to meet the revenue opportunities offered by 3D games and digital video.

While the demands may be similar, however, the environments for computer and mobile phone graphics couldn’t be more different. On the power rich computer desktop, ardent gamers are combining two graphics boards, each with a separate power connection, for the most accelerated game play. In the mobile environment, however, chip size and battery life are paramount, and graphics technology must provide high visual quality, optimum performance and low power consumption.

Clearly, the power hungry graphics technologies that work on desktop computers are totally unsuited for mobile phones. This creates a new demand for graphics technology that allows mobile phone users to enjoy these new classes of content while meeting the size and power consumption requirements of mobile phone vendors.

Falanx Microsystems’ Mali graphics architecture is designed to meet that demand. This architecture requires the fewest gates of any competing technology and smallest die size, so can easily be integrated into the most compact mobile devices, and also draws the least power during normal operation, extending battery life. Despite the compact size and power efficiency, each Mali configuration includes bandwidth efficient 4X Full Scene Anti-Aliasing (FSAA) for optimal 2D and 3D quality, and the unique (and patent pending) ability to reuse these 3D gates for video encoding and decoding.

Falanx licenses the family of Mali IP Cores directly to equipment and System-on-a-Chip (SoC) vendors. Targeted at these customers and the trade press, this white paper details the operation

and competitive advantages of the Mali graphics architecture.

Today, no one really knows if 3D games or video related applications will contribute significantly to network revenue over the next few years. What is certain, however, is that mobile phones equipped with Falanx’s Mali technology are ideally equipped for both 3D and video. This makes Mali the obvious choice for vendors seeking to supply a cost effective, high performance platform for today’s market demands while “future proofing” their technology for potential revenue opportunities in the future.

Mali Technology Overview

The Mali architecture is a scalable technology for 2D and 3D graphics and video encode/decode acceleration. Originally designed in 1998 to meet the OpenGL®2.0 standard, the Mali architecture has been streamlined for OpenGL®ES 1.1. The first generation of Mali cores, the Mali100 and Mali50, offers patent pending techniques for industry leading 4X FSAA without memory spikes or performance degradation, optional 16X FSAA for leading image quality, and methods for re-using 3D gates for video encoding and decoding and for optimal performance on low gate count.

The current line of Mali cores present scalable solutions for different market segments, from entry-level mobile phones to high-end smart phones, game pads and set-top boxes, while maintaining binary compatibility with first generation cores, easing the upgrade cycle. As shown in Figure 1, there are two cores for rasterization (and video encode/decode) and one geometry processor for matching with either raster engine.

Figure 1. The current line of Mali cores.

Briefly, the Mali55 offers the lowest gate count and is designed to be matched with ARM9 / ARM11 for transform and lighting (T&L). The Mali55 can also be matched with MaliGP for higher video performance and reduced power consumption for 3D graphics. The Mali110 is designed for highperformance 3D graphics and video with performance matched with MaliGP. Finally, MaliGP is a programmable vertex shader /DSP architecture for T&L and to accelerate several video encoding and decoding algorithms.

Table 1 details the basic configuration and performance parameters of the Mali family. All Mali cores are designed for easy integration into existing SoC architectures, reducing time-to-market and system complexity for a fully featured 3D and video enabled SoC solution. All operations on the SoC bus are burst optimized with 8-burst or 16-burst transactions.

Table 1: Configuration and performance parameters for Mali family of graphics cores.


Category: Hardware

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