Chip designer ARM expects mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones to reach capabilities on a par with PCs within a few years, matching them in graphics and performance.
ARM said that many of the developments seen in PC graphics and processors over the past few years are now being repeated in mobile devices, offering support for high-definition displays, 3D graphics acceleration and heterogeneous computing, the latter using the power of the GPU to accelerate number-crunching tasks.
"Mobile gaming is one factor driving the industry at the moment, with 3D graphics now better than cutting edge games were on the PC a few years back," said Kevin Smith, vice president of strategic marketing at ARM's Media Processing division.
Smith predicted that by 2016 mobile devices will be able to support multi-player gaming and user interfaces driven by 3D gesture input, akin to Microsoft's Kinect technology.
While all this activity appears to be focused on gamers at the moment, the technology is also likely to lead to broader applications that can make use of the capabilities now being developed, putting "massive amounts of processing power into the hands of the application developer", according to ARM.
"Perpetual demand" for higher display resolutions and faster 3D support is already driving the development of mobile graphics at a rapid pace, Smith claimed.
For example, digital TVs and monitors are in the pipeline with a display resolution of 4,096x2,160 pixels or '4K2K', which is four times the resolution of current high-definition 1080p equipment, and buyers will expect their devices to support it.
"The smartphone is a major personalised compute platform and people will want to drive these big screens from it, so we expect to see the convergence of the PC and the mobile experience in a few years," he said.
ARM is attempting to address these demands by aligning its CPU and GPU development, which Smith said has been happening since its Cortex A9 design.
In particular, the company is taking extra care over how its own Mali GPU integrates with ARM CPU cores in any system-on-a-chip design, to ensure that performance is maximised while keeping power consumption down.
"Memory bandwidth is one of the factors that tends to have the biggest single impact on power consumption," said Smith.
This has been reduced by up to 30 per cent in ARM's newest GPU, the Mali-T604, using techniques such as cache snooping and keeping the L2 caches coherent across the GPU and CPU cores, reducing the need to access off-chip memory so frequently, he explained.
"We've been able to leverage experience from the CPU team to improve performance in areas such as graphics memory access," Smith said.
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