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iPhone chip designer trumpets multi-core GPUs

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Multicore Expo Immersive gaming, photo-realistic graphics, and HD video will soon take a giant step off your desktop and into the palm of your hand with the arrival of a new line of multi-core GPUs aimed squarely at the mobile, handheld, and automotive markets.

The new designs are from Imagination Technologies, a fabless chip designer perhaps best known not only for the fact that its PowerVR MBX core powers Apple's iPhone, but also because both Apple and Intel have made substantial investments in the Hertfordshire, England company.

The new line of GPU designs are based on technologies developed for the company's PowerVR SGX543 graphics core - which we reported on in January. The line is called, unsurprisingly, PowerVR SGX543MP.

In his Tuesday keynote at the Multicore Expo in Santa Clara, California, Imagination's VP of marketing, Tony King, told the assembled engineers that the SGX543MP family would support from two to sixteen cores.

An application running on a system that employs a member of the SGX543MP family will have no need to know how many cores the GPU employs - all core management duties will be performed by the driver software.

Without any intervention by the application - and, more importantly, without any intervention by the application's developer - the driver will pass data to an "MP code scheduler," which will in turn pass that data to one pipeline scheduler per core, which will then pass it to one thread scheduler per multi-threaded processing engine, which will then manage the threads through the engines as they process the graphics data.

In other words, the SGX543 can have any number of cores from two to sixteen with no change in the driver software or the application. All that complex data/pipeline/thread management is done in hardware. No muss, no fuss.

The PowerVX SGX543 has four pipelines, so a 16-core PowerVR SGX543MP - imaginatively named the PowerVR SGX543MP16 - will have 64. In graphics-processing terms, that's one hell of a lot of concurrent pixel and vertex shading.

In his keynote King-Smith used only graphics apps as example, but in a statement he referred to the SGX543MP cores as "GP-GPU" processors - invoking the "general-purpose computing on GPU" holy grail being sought by OpenCL devotees such as Nvidia, Apple, Intel, AMD, ARM, and many others - including Imagination.

Which leads to a bit of El Regian prognostication. Seeing as how Apple's upcoming Mac OS X 10.6, aka Snow Leopard, will embrace the GP-GPU goodness of OpenCL, and seeing as how the iPhone already runs a variant of Mac OS X on an Imagination Technologies PowerVR MBX core, wouldn't a many-core PowerVX SGX543MP make a mighty fine GPU for, say, an Apple tablet?

After all, King-Smith promised that the SGX543MP architectures will scale seamlessly up to HD video. And Apple would love to give you a reason to buy more HD movies from the iTunes Store. ®

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