Imagination Technologies launches next-gen PowerVR Series7 GPUs

10 Nov 2014 | Author: | No comments yet »

Imagination Announces PowerVR Series7 GPUsMobile graphics processor company Imagination Technologies has launched a new range of Graphics Processing Units (GPUs) which are meant to provide next generation graphics for products including wearables and Internet of Things (IoT) devices.

We probably won’t actually see any products with PowerVR Series 7 graphics until late 2015, but Imagination is unveiling its new designs now so that chip makers can incorporate the technology into future products.Though the first PowerVR Series 6XT-equipped products have only recently launched – including the unexpectedly powerful iPad Air 2 – the development cycle for SoCs and the realities of IP licensing mean that Imagination is already focusing on GPU designs for late 2015 and beyond.London, UK – November 10, 2014 – Imagination Technologies (IMG.L) introduces PowerVR Series7, the latest generation of the PowerVR Rogue GPU architecture and an entire line-up of GPUs which scale from 16 to 512 arithmetic logic unit (ALU) cores, providing unprecedented scalability, efficiency and performance. There are two branches: High performance Series7XT for smart phones and tablets, which scales from 100Gflop to 1.5Tflop, and Series7XE which is optimised for chip area and aimed at TVs, set-top boxes, wearables, and lesser mobile devices. Imagination is claiming a performance boost of 60% over its Series6 GPUs, clock for clock, which for a single 12-month generational leap is pretty darn impressive.

PowerVR Series7 is architected for the broadest range of next-generation products from wearables and IoT through automotive, mobile and consumer electronics devices, up to high-performance GPU compute. With the range of mobile devices becoming ever more diverse the PowerVR Series7 chips aim to provide right-sized solutions for your devices – all the way from the smallest wearable or IoT device through smartphones and tablets and up to large screen powering smart TVs and games consoles. The top-end Series7XT GT7900 will feature 16 clusters (somewhat equivalent to a GPU “core”), for a total of 512 ALUs and peak theoretical performance above 1 teraflop — or around the same as an Nvidia GTX 750. Highly configurable, scalable GPUs address market requirements across these segments, with new features such as full hardware virtualization and Android Extension Pack (AEP) support with hardware tessellation, as well as proven features such as geometry shaders, PVR3C™ triple compression technology for bandwidth/power savings, and full ASTC (adaptive scalable texture compression) support.

That said, the folks at Imagination Technologies have shipped a ton of GPU inside of, you know, every iPhone and iPad ever, and they have been somewhat forthcoming recently about how their GPUs look internally. The new chips are spilt into two distinct sub-ranges; the Series7XE which are optimized for area, efficiency and feature configurability and the Series7XT which can offer dramatically scalable performance from 100 GFLOPS to 1.5 TFLOPS. While Imagination holds these events in multiple countries over the year, the Chinese event is in many respects the most important from a hardware standpoint.

To match the wide range of performance options Imagination is offering a wide range of OS support to include Google Android, Microsoft DirectX and OpenCL. Serie 7XE is a lower-performance (and cheaper) architecture designed for low-to-mid range devices, while the Series7XT designs are aimed at mid-to-high range devices. Tony King-Smith, EVP marketing, Imagination, says: “With graphics-enabled devices entering all aspects of everyday life, it is no longer possible to offer just point solutions. Looking at the new performance figures Imagination says that its PowerVR Series7 graphics chips can outclass its previous generation Series6 chips in performance by around 60%.

For the longest time, these companies were the designers of obscure, low-power chips for embedded solutions and other non-sexy products — and then, with the popularization of the smartphone in 2007, everything changed very quickly. These improvements include: co-issue capability added to the instruction set, a new hierarchical layout structure that enables scalable polygon throughput and pixel fill rate improvements in addition to increased clock frequencies, and GPU compute setup and cache throughput improvements. Now, almost every cellular device in the world has a Qualcomm chip inside it — and almost every mobile device uses a CPU licensed from ARM Holdings.

With PowerVR Series7, we have not only honed our architecture but also our IP support with tools such as our Design Optimization Kits for rapid physical and performance optimization. Series7XT designs include versions with 2 to 16 shading clusters and 64 to 512 ALU cores for what Imagination says is desktop-class performance with support for HDR rendering, 4K texturing, and physical shading. Like Series 6XT, Series7 is composed of two variants, Series7XT for the high end and Series7XE for the low-end, and in turn each contains a number of individual configurations. We won’t be seeing any products sporting these new faster and more efficient processors until late in 2015 but its good to see them on their way to make the gadgets we love even more irresistible.

For Microsoft operating systems there is a DirectX 11.2 feature set in Series7XT cores, and the 64bit flating point scientific extension supports OpenCL. Ranging from half a shader cluster (USC) to 16 clusters, Imagination is seeking to cover virtually the entire range of SoC-equipped devices, from high-end IoT/wearables to tablets, set top boxes, and even HPC severs. The Series7XT also adds hardware support for GPU virtualization, so a single Series7XT GPU can be shared among multiple virtual machines running on a hypervisor. With each generation Imagination has further tweaked and expanded their designs to improve performance/efficiency and to cover new use cases, and for Series7 the story is much the same. This approach ensures that all accesses to memory are correlated and efficient, unlike older multi-core approaches where many cores all work in an uncoordinated way on different regions of the screen which results in many distributed accesses to memory and inefficient DRAM usage.

This year Imagination has sat down with us to give us an overview of what’s new and changed in their architecture for Series7, so let’s dive right in. Overall, Imagination is reporting a 60% speed-up over Series6 GPUs, clock-for-clock, cluster-for-cluster in “industry standard benchmarks.” The layout of each Unified Shading Cluster (USC) is also identical, with the exception of an optional FP64 ALU — the main difference being that Series7 now allows for up to 16 USCs, where Series6XT maxed out at six.

Series7XT and Series7XE GPUs achieve up to a 60% architectural performance increase on the latest industry standard benchmarks compared to equivalent configurations of previous generation PowerVR Series6XT/6XE GPUs, maintaining and extending PowerVR’s reputation as the most efficient, highest performance, lowest power GPU. Start with the fact that mobile GPUs like this one still tend to employ fp16 precision by default, rather than the fp32 default used by modern desktop graphics. This makes sense, given how it’s only been less than a year since Series6XT was announced, and the mobile market — like the PC market — is now very much about evolutionary updates, rather than revolutionary changes that generally upset developers and break compatibility. We should see the first products with a Series7XT GPU in the next 12-18 months, which should line up nicely with Nvidia’s next-gen Tegra with a Maxwell-based GPU.

Outside of the underlying architecture however, there is also the need to deliver new features to keep up with modern APIs, developer demands, and of course the competitive landscape. Featuring AEP and 10-bit YUV support as standard, Series7XT GPUs are based on two to sixteen clusters, each containing 32 multi-threaded multi-tasking ALU cores, with high-end configurations capable of achieving teraflop level performance.

GPUs include the two cluster GT7200, four cluster GT7400, six cluster GT7600, eight cluster GT7800, and 16 cluster GT7900, with other configurations available. There’s no word on when we might see Qualcomm’s 500-series Adreno GPU, or perhaps a beefier 400-series GPU, but presumably it’ll debut alongside a 64-bit Snapdragon SoC at some point in 2015. For these reasons Series7 will also be responsible for delivering feature improvements to Imagination’s GPU lineup to keep it up to date with the latest standards. Exactly as the name describes it, the Tessellation Co-Processor is hardware block responsible for and working in conjunction with the Vertex Data Master to implement full tessellation support.

Imagination’s forthcoming heterogeneous security architecture is designed to address the privacy and security needs of evolving and emerging connected applications. CPU-agnostic hardware virtualization in the GPU enables customers in segments such as automotive to build systems where the dashboard and infotainment system can run independently and reliably on the same platform. Meanwhile the Compute Data Master has been upgraded as well to allow it to setup wavefronts more quickly (up to 300% faster), which is especially helpful for quickly processing large numbers of small kernels, something Imagination tells us was more common than expected.

Primarily focusing on reducing inter-tile dependencies, Series7 can now more frequently issue work to idle USCs that in Series6/XT/XE were waiting on other USCs to finish their work before the whole block moved on. OpenCL™ FP64 Feature Pack: for customers leveraging Series7XT for high-performance server compute, this pack provides a scalable 64-bit floating point co-processor per cluster. The number of FP16 and FP32 ALUs and resulting floating point operation throughput is unchanged, however the Special Function Unit (SFU) has received a pair of changes. Developers can join the PowerVR Insider community, download the SDK for free and interact with the community of 50,000+ members through developer forums at

Keep in mind that SFU operations are already relatively expensive, so native FP16 special functions should have a tangible impact on power consumption. Still, based on what Imagination Technologies is offering its customers, we can probably expect that mobile graphics will continue to scale up at a breakneck pace in the coming years. Starting with Series7, SFU operations can now be co-issued with ALU operations, allowing for both blocks to be used at once as opposed to one or the other on 6XT.

Now to be clear here only SFUs can be co-issued, and wavefronts can only use either the FP16 or FP32 ALUs (and not both at once), but there is now a degree of co-issue capability within a USC that was not available before. The PowerVR GPU family leads the market in technological capability, roadmap breadth and ecosystem, and is by far the most adopted and shipped technology of its kind. See: * PowerVR Series7 based GPUs are designed to pass the Khronos Conformance Testing Process for all identified graphics, compute and vision APIs. These fused instructions also allow for certain common sequences that are issued over multiple instructions to instead be issued as a single fused instruction, which in turn reduces code size slightly and potentially allows for these operations to be performed in fewer cycles. The company’s broad range of silicon IP (intellectual property) includes the key processing blocks needed to create the SoCs (Systems on Chips) that power all mobile, consumer and embedded electronics.

Its unique software IP, infrastructure technologies and system solutions enable its customers get to market quickly with complete and highly differentiated SoC platforms. A base feature in 7XT and optional to 7XE will be GPU support for hardware security zones, which uses virtualization technology to create up to 8 zones that are fully isolated from each other. Imagination’s licensees include many of the world’s leading semiconductor manufacturers, network operators and OEMs/ODMs who are creating some of the world’s most iconic products. Consequently for Series7 Imagination is adding security zone support to their hardware to go along with the security zones already supported with CPUs. From a practical standpoint what we’re looking at is the capability to do better application sandboxing to keep applications from getting out and touching other parts of the system.

Hardware zones can be used to secure certain high-profile applications (banking, health, Apple Pay, etc), but said zones are also responsible for enabling stronger DRM on video content and hardening the system against jailbreaks in cases where direct root access is not allowed by the manufacturer.

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