How NPUs Make Your Smartphone Smarter and Faster

How NPUs make your smartphone smarter and faster

We are currently in the midst of an AI boom and driving this boom are what are known as NPUs. So join me as we explore how NPUs make your smartphone smarter and faster.

Smartphones are amazing devices that can do many things, from taking photos and videos to playing games and browsing the web. But how do they work? What are the components that make them so powerful and versatile?

What are NPUs?

One of the most important parts of a smartphone is the SoC or System on Chip. The SoC is like the brain of the smartphone, and it determines how fast and smoothly it can perform various tasks. It is a tiny chip that contains all the essential components of a computer, such as the CPU cores, GPU, RAM, ISPmodem, and more.  These parts of the SoC are what handle your operating system, apps, games, cameras, battery, etc.

However, there is another component of the SoC that has become more and more important in recent years. This part is known as the NPU or Neural Processing Unit. It is a specialized processor that is designed to handle artificial intelligence and machine learning tasks, such as image processing, video processing, face recognition, voice recognition, and more. The NPU is like the smart assistant of the smartphone, and it enables a seamless and smart user experience.

 


For more information, please see the article, What is an NPU?


How NPUs Work in the SoC?

An NPU is usually integrated with other components in the SoC, such as the CPU, GPU, RAM, ISP, and modem, to produce a uniform computing system. This means that each component can perform different tasks according to its strengths and capabilities and communicate and cooperate to achieve the best performance and functionality.

For example, when you record a video with your smartphone, the ISP (Image Signal Processor) captures the raw data from the camera sensor and sends it to the NPU for processing. The NPU then enhances the video quality, stabilizes the motion, and applies effects and filters. The NPU can also detect and track the faces, objects, and scenes in the video and add metadata and annotations.

When it is done, the NPU then sends the processed video data to the GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) for rendering and encoding. NPUs can also help the GPU optimize the compression and bitrate of the video and reduce the file size and bandwidth. The GPU then sends the encoded video data to the device’s storage or the modem for transmission. The modem can also use the NPU to optimize the network connection and signal quality and reduce latency and interference.

By integrating the NPU with other components in the SoC, the smartphone can achieve a seamless and smart user experience where the user can enjoy high-quality video recording and streaming without any lag, stutter, or delay.

NPU and Smartphone Cameras


See more: NPUs and Smartphone Cameras: The Power Of Computer Vision


How NPUs Make Your Smartphone Smarter And Faster

An NPU can improve the performance and functionality of your smartphone in many ways, such as:

Gaming:

NPUs can help the GPUs generate and render realistic graphics, simulating physics, and creating immersive sound effects for games. It can also offload some work from the GPUs and help to improve your gaming experience.

Image Processing:

An NPU can use neural networks (AI) to enhance the image quality, adjust the brightness and contrast, remove noise and blur, and apply filters and effects. An NPU can also be used to detect and identify the faces, objects, and scenes in the image and tag them accordingly. This improves the camera performance, photo editing, and gallery management of your smartphone.

Video Processing:

An NPU can use neural networks to enhance the video quality, stabilize the motion, and apply effects and filters. An NPU can also use neural networks to detect and track the faces, objects, and scenes in the video. It also adds metadata and annotations to the video. This can improve the video recording, editing, and streaming of your smartphone.

Facial Recognition:

An NPU can use neural networks to recognize the faces of the users, unlock smartphones, authorize payments, and access apps and services. An NPU can also use neural networks to recognize the expressions and emotions of the users. It can use this data to adjust/modify the user interface, and give feedback, and suggestions accordingly. This can improve the security, convenience, and personalization of your smartphone.

Voice Recognition:

An NPU can use neural networks to recognize the voice commands and queries of the users, activate the virtual assistant, control the smartphone, and access information and services. It can do all of this right from your smartphone without needing to connect to a remote server. An NPU can also use neural networks to recognize the tone and mood of the users and adjust the response, feedback, and suggestions accordingly. This can improve the interaction, communication, and productivity of your smartphone.

Natural Language Processing:

An NPU can use neural networks to understand the natural language of the users. It can then translate it to other languages, generate text and speech, and summarize and analyze text and speech. An NPU can also use neural networks to understand the context and intent of the users and provide relevant and accurate information and services. This helps people communicate over a language barrier and can improve the language, education, and entertainment of your smartphone.

Computer Vision:

An NPU can use neural networks to understand the visual environment of the users. It can measure the distance, size, shape, and motion of the objects, and create 3D models and maps of the scenes. An NPU can also use neural networks to augment the reality of the users and overlay virtual objects and information in the real world. This can improve the navigation, gaming, and shopping of your smartphone.

NPU performance

How to Compare and Choose the Best NPU for Your Smartphone?

NPUs are mostly proprietary and are tied to the SoC on a phone. Currently, the best SoCs on the market include:

  • Qualcomm Hexagon (Snapdragon)
  • Neural Engine (Apple Bionic/Pro)
  • Edge TPU (Google Tensor)
  • MediaTek APU (Dimensity)
  • Da Vinci (Hisilicon Kirin)
  • Samsung NPU (Exynos)

The different companies behind these NPUs tout a lot of new functions and features that their SoCs are capable of. So if you are interested in the features offered by a particular company, say Qualcomm for example, you’ll have to buy a phone with their Snapdragon SoC.

Conclusion

Neural Processing Units (NPUs) are specialized chips designed for AI and machine learning, enhancing smartphone performance, security, and user experience. By offloading tasks from CPUs and GPUs, NPUs reduce power consumption and extend battery life. They process data-intensive applications like image and voice recognition, language processing, and augmented reality. Common NPUs include Qualcomm’s Hexagon DSP, Samsung’s Neural Processing Solution, Apple’s Neural Engine, Huawei’s Da Vinci Architecture, and Google’s Tensor Processing Unit, each with unique capabilities. This is how NPUs make your smartphone smarter and faster.


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