We talk about SoCs all the time, but very few people pay attention to GPUs. GPUs? What is a GPU?
As you boot up your phone and that cool looking animation boot up logo comes up, do you ever wonder what is responsible?
Have you ever thought about why some phones can play certain games like PUBG or PES on high settings and yours can’t?
Have you tried to download a game from Play store and the system said “not compatible”. Well look no further, the answer is GPU. Every picture, graphic, video, game or image on your screen is rendered by a part of the SoC called a GPU.
A Graphics Processing Unit (GPU) is a specialized electronic circuit designed to rapidly manipulate and alter memory to accelerate the creation of images in a frame buffer intended for output to a display (Wikipedia). In simpler terms, the mobile GPU is a dedicated co-processor designed to render graphics on apps, user interfaces as well as 3D content on your smartphones, wearables and IoT devices.
Read: Top 100 Smartphone GPU rankings
How do they work?
Most GPUs use compute shaders like openGL ES for advanced graphics rendering. GPUs can also help carry out ISP co-processing for images as well as video (HEVC and H.264) pre/post processing. Most high end GPUs today are called General Purpose GPUs (GPGPUs) because they help in computation as well as lifting some load from the CPU cores.
The term GPU was coined by Sony and was first used on the Playstation One GPU developed by Toshiba in 1994. Nvidia then made the term popular in 1999 when they erroneously marketed the GeForce 256 as the world’s first GPU.
GPU’s can be found as separated graphics cards in PCs or embedded (soldered) into SoCs for smartphones, laptops and other devices that use integrated circuits.
MOBILE GPU MANUFACTURERS
A GPU is a part of the SoC for smartphones. It works alongside the processor cores to render the graphics that appear on the screen. This is especially important when playing video games or watch high quality videos online. The rise of high definition online games like PUBG, PES, Fortnite, Call of Duty etc. has led a lot of smartphone users to be more conscious of whatever GPU is paired with the SoC on their phones.
The following GPUs are used for smartphones.
1. Adreno (Qualcomm)
2. Apple GPU (Apple)
3. Mali (ARM)
4. Power VR (Imagination technologies)
5. Tegra (Nvidia)
Mali is made by ARM, it is the most popular GPU in use for Android SoCs. It is used in Mediatek, Exynos, Kirin and Unisoc SoCs. Mali produces the older T series and the newer G series of GPUs. It is responsible for rendering graphics for a lot of phones. Mali GPUs are cheap, have a high clock speeds but tends to overheat. Mali chips with a high number of shader cores tend to do very well. They are usually signified by the number written in front to the MP. For example, the Mali G76 MP16 has 16 shader cores and it performs better than the Mali G76 MP10.
Adreno is designed by Qualcomm, they are only paired Snapdragon SoCs. They have a larger API (for software development), they have low clock spreeds, more shader cores and are less likely to overheat. Qualcomm do not signify the number of cores used on their GPUs.
Apple initially used Power VR GPUs but later started producing their own Apple GPU. This is the GPU that powers all iPhones from iPhone 8 and above.
PowerVR by Imagination Technologies is also very popular in smartphones. It was used in the original iPhone all the way to iPhone 7 before being discontinued. They can be found in low end Mediatek processors these days.
(Image credits: ARM)
FACTORS THAT INFLUENCE GPU PERFORMANCE
1. GPU Architecture: the GPU with the newer or latest architecture is always better. For example, Mali G76 is better than G71.
2. Fabrication: the newer and smaller GPUs are always better.
3. Core count: the number of cores used in a GPU goes a long way to determine its performance. For example, in Mali GPUs like the Mali G76 MP12, the MP12 denotes the number of cores (i.e. 12 cores). Mali and Power VR GPUs usually give the number of their cores but Adreno and Apple GPU cores are kept hidden.
4. Clock speed: the clock speed of the GPU determines its performance. A GPU running at 800MHz should fare better than one running at 450MHz.
(Image credits: Qualcomm)
The following are the GPU rankings rated on the basis of performance. One GPU can be paired with several SoCs. The Adreno 618 can be found on the SD720G, SD730 and SD730G.
A CLASS (FLAGSHIP LEVEL GPU)
The following GPUs are the best in the market. They can render any graphics or play any high definition online game in the market today. The below listed are all flagship class GPUs.
Apple: A13, A12 and A11 Bionic GPU
Qualcomm: Adreno 650, 640, 630, 620 and 540
ARM: Mali G77 MP11, G77 MC9, G76 MP16, G77 MC7, G76 MP 12, G76 MP10, G77 MP5, G72 MP18 and G52 MP6
Imagination Tech: None
B CLASS (UPPER MIDRANGE LEVEL)
These chips can also run very well but they are a step below the A class GPUs. They can render any graphic as well games very well. They are mostly found on old flagships or on upper midrange SoCs.
Qualcomm: Adreno 618, 530 and 616
ARM: Mali G72 MP12, G76 3EEMC4 and G71 MP20
Imagination Tech: Power VR 7XT GT7600 Plus
These are good for most games but not all. They certainly won’t support games like Grid Autosports or Fortnite. They also cannot play a lot of games at very high settings. Mid settings should be okay. They also lag when rendering in augmented or virtual reality. But for the price, they offer very decent performance. You can find them on lots of lower midrangers.
Qualcomm: Adreno 615, 612, 610, 512, 430, 510, 509, 508, 420 and 418
ARM: Mali G71 MP8, T880 MP12, G52 MC2, G72 MP3, T760 MP8, T860 MP4, G51 MP4 and T830 MP3
Imagination Tech: Power VR 7XT GT7600, 7XTP-MT4, GM9446 and GX6450
(Image credits: Imagination Tech)
D CLASS (BUDGET LEVEL)
These GPU are mostly found on budget SoCs. They can also play a lot of games but not the top tier high end ones. They can also play games at low to mid settings. Do not go any higher than that or your gaming experience would be terrible. These GPUs also are incompatible with virtual or augmented reality.
Qualcomm: Adreno 506, 505 and 405
ARM: Mali T880 MP4, G71 MP2, G71 MP1, T880 MP2, T760 MP6, T628 MP6, T830 MP2, T860 MP2 and T769 MP4
Imagination Tech: Power VE G6430, G6200 and GE8320
These are the worst GPUs you can find on smartphones. They can not play anything beyond casual games like Temple Run, Candy crush, Cooking fever etc. Their performances are really nothing to write home about.
Qualcomm: Adreno 504, 308 and 306
ARM: Mali T628 MP4, T830 MP1, T720 MP2, T604 MP4, T760 MP2, T720 MP1 and T450 MP4
Imagination Tech: Power VR GE8100
This brings us to the end of this post. What GPU do you use? How has it impacted on your viewing and gaming experience? What GPU class would you aim for in future? Let us know in the comments.
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Thanks for the insight
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