Apple partner Imagination unveils PowerVR 'super-GPU' with 512 ALU cores for game consoles

Posted:
in Future Apple Hardware edited March 2015
Imagination Technologies, the company who designs the graphics processors used in Apple's A-series chips, unveiled the PowerVR GT7900 on Thursday, a so-called "super-GPU" that will power affordable game consoles, and could be a candidate for a future Apple TV refresh.




Imagination's PowerVR Series7XT GPUs are intended for a wide range of devices, starting with phones, tablets and 4K TVs on the low-end GT7200 and GT7400 models. Starting with the PowerVR GT7600 series, Imagination claims the chips begin to outperform last-generation game consoles like the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.

But on Thursday, the chipmaker unveiled the specifications for its upcoming top-of-the-line PowerVR Series7XT graphics processor: The GT7900, featuring 16 clusters and 512 arithmetic logic unit (ALU) cores.

Imagination claims that the PowerVR GT7900 design will outperform a GeForce GT 730M graphics card, capable of 552.2 gigaFLOPS. For some perspective, Apple's high-end 15-inch MacBook Pro currently comes with the Nvidia GeForce GT 750M graphics card, which is advertised to have a floating-point performance of 722.7 GFLOPS.




The PowerVR GT7900 is intended for notebooks, microservers, and in a first for Imagination Technologies, affordable game consoles. The company says the graphics processor will offer a "PC-class gaming experience for embedded devices."

Chips based on the PowerVR GT7900 design are expected to begin hitting the market later this year. And one of the biggest users of PowerVR chips is of course Apple, which relies on the GPU designs for its custom A-series processors found in the iPhone, iPad and Apple TV.




It's the PowerVR GT7900's distinction as ideal for affordable game consoles that could make it a potential candidate for a future Apple TV update. Rumors have persisted for years that an updated Apple TV with new input methods and a dedicated App Store could bring Apple into the game console market, competing more directly with the likes of Xbox, PlayStation, and Nintendo.

In its current state, some games can be streamed from an iPhone or iPad to an Apple TV using AirPlay. But the addition of an App Store, as well as a more powerful graphics processor, could allow more traditional console-style titles.

The existing Apple TV set-top box hasn't seen a refresh in years, which has increased expectations that Apple will give a much-needed update to its so-called "hobby" project in 2015. Apple CEO Tim Cook has heightened expectations himself, saying back in 2012 that his company plans to redefine how people use their television set.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 37
    I told Steve Jobs that the "to market" dilemma that prevented people from buying AppleTV was already solved by the game console market. Turn the AppleTV into a game console and MILLIONS of people will automatically want to buy it EVEN of their cable company provides them the cable box for free.
  • Reply 2 of 37
    melgrossmelgross Posts: 31,472member
    Of course, if Apple maintains the $99 pricing on the ATv, then there is no chance any top model SoC will ever get inside.
  • Reply 3 of 37
    MacProMacPro Posts: 18,142member
    YES!

    In a year or two we may be saying goodbye Apple hardware Achilles Heel.

    EDIT: I am referring to GPUs in MBPs here only. Sorry I thought that was obvious but obviously not.
  • Reply 4 of 37
    wizard69wizard69 Posts: 12,719member
    jameskatt2 wrote: »
    I told Steve Jobs that the "to market" dilemma that prevented people from buying AppleTV was already solved by the game console market. Turn the AppleTV into a game console and MILLIONS of people will automatically want to buy it EVEN of their cable company provides them the cable box for free.

    Actually my resistance to AppleTV comes from the lack of access. A little $99 box with an easily accessible USB port has a lot of potential beyond just driving a TV. In fact my desire to be able to repurpose old hardware is so strong that I can't see spending money on a box that I can't find alternative uses for when it comes time to upgrade.

    Even as a gaming console my interests are extremely limited. Put the ability to scan your E-Mail, do face time or other activities and we might have something of value. Gaming just isn't a primary attraction for many of us and frankly a HTPC is far more versatile. Give us some versatility when it comes to AppleTV and sales just might go up.
  • Reply 5 of 37
    Judging for the amount of upgrades expected by AI for AppleTV, that mythical device should take us directly to the moon at the touch of a button.
    Or maybe Apple is thinking of that only in Alaska, Washington, Oregon and Colorado.
  • Reply 6 of 37
    wizard69wizard69 Posts: 12,719member
    melgross wrote: »
    Of course, if Apple maintains the $99 pricing on the ATv, then there is no chance any top model SoC will ever get inside.

    I think you underestimate the potential here for 14 nm and smaller feature sizes. 14 nm with the addition of FinFets, should more than double the space Apple has available for transistors. That means what is shipping today in Apples cell phones will have far more resources once the move to 14 nm happens. In the case of the Apple TV the change would be even more dramatic as the chip in the TV is a bit on the old side.

    The big problem as I see it is heat, there was no mention in this article but I can't imagine that this GPU would run fan free at its full capability. That is even considering the very significant power savings the 14 nm processes offer. Hopefully I'm wrong here.
  • Reply 7 of 37
    wizard69wizard69 Posts: 12,719member
    YES!

    In a year or two we may be saying goodbye Apple hardware Achilles Heel.

    What is this nonsense? Especially with Apples ARM based products we are seeing incredibly good GPU performance that few in the industry can touch. Even with the Mac Apple has been doing well of late. Take the Mini for example which was revised to stress GPU performance.

    Five years ago I would have given your comments some credit but frankly it doesn't really hold water anymore. In many ways Apples IOS devices represent the best in class performance.
  • Reply 8 of 37
    An Apple model would be unable to take down the current high-end gaming market. As always, "it's the software, stupid" and the App Store doesn't have it. It has good mobile experiences but that's it (and that's where it should stay).

    The average game is now 15GB or larger in size (high-end titles fill a 50GB BD-ROM), they have multi-million dollar budgets, etc. The Wii market no longer exists.

    Gaming would be a small part of any AppleTV refresh, and I have doubts that Apple would be able to let go of design minimalism to produce a compelling gamepad. Considering the number of complaints I hear about the overly minimalist ATV remote, I think that'd be a big issue.

    As for the low end, well, Ouya didn't exactly storm the gate, and neither did FireTV.
  • Reply 9 of 37
    foggyhillfoggyhill Posts: 4,767member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by digitalclips View Post



    YES!



    In a year or two we may be saying goodbye Apple hardware Achilles Heel.

     

    They already have the best GPU in their phone and tablets (limitations in the phone are mainly for power reasons), not sure what your talking about. Having this in a tablet in 2.5 years would be a bit crazy though when considering game makers don't even make games right now that fully exploit current hardware.

  • Reply 10 of 37
    wood1208wood1208 Posts: 1,874member
    This is no brainer news. When Apple announced and used 64-bit CPU iphone/ipad paved way/direction to future home entertainment hub that embed home-kit functionality to control home gadgets, video streaming, internet browser, music streaming and decent game console. Very large population, people(kids and adults) like to play video games that are good but not necessarily high end die hard gamers. Apple TV HUB fits right their with high end 64-bit CPU and PowerVR graphics.
  • Reply 11 of 37
    thomprthompr Posts: 1,511member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by wizard69 View Post





    I think you underestimate the potential here for 14 nm and smaller feature sizes. 14 nm with the addition of FinFets, should more than double the space Apple has available for transistors. That means what is shipping today in Apples cell phones will have far more resources once the move to 14 nm happens. In the case of the Apple TV the change would be even more dramatic as the chip in the TV is a bit on the old side.



    The big problem as I see it is heat, there was no mention in this article but I can't imagine that this GPU would run fan free at its full capability. That is even considering the very significant power savings the 14 nm processes offer. Hopefully I'm wrong here.

    Unless I misunderstood the previous poster or I misunderstood your response, it seems like his point was that the cost of these high-end SOCs would likely cause the AppleTV's retail price to have to go up, and it seems like you are talking about the space inside the box.

     

    Thompson

  • Reply 12 of 37
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by jameskatt2 View Post



    I told Steve Jobs that the "to market" dilemma that prevented people from buying AppleTV was already solved by the game console market. Turn the AppleTV into a game console and MILLIONS of people will automatically want to buy it EVEN of their cable company provides them the cable box for free.



    Apple might now be open to doing what you described, but SJ always wanted devices to do one thing really well and was opposed to riding on a separate platform. Beside, he rarely supported gaming, remember the Bungie debacle.

  • Reply 13 of 37
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by melgross View Post



    Of course, if Apple maintains the $99 pricing on the ATv, then there is no chance any top model SoC will ever get inside.



    It depends on what you mean by "top model SOC". 

     

    I don't think it would be hard to equal the XBONE in terms of what users experience. The XBONE SOC is about 5 billion transistors on a 28 nm process. The A8 is about 3 billion on a 20 nm process. Go to 14 nm and 5 billion isn't out of the realm of possibility. But 5 billion might not even be necessary. XBONE has 8 sh!TTy x86 cores from AMD. Replace those with 3 enhanced cyclone cores and from a end-user perspective, you might not be losing much. Drop the camera ISP from the A8 and replace it with more GPU transistors. 

     

    I bet Apple could sell a $99 AppleTV at slightly better than break even and then make money off the content. 

  • Reply 14 of 37
    There is one major advantage that an AppleTV game console would have over an XBox One or PS4: Development cost. It costs a lot to develop an indie game for a game console for the tools and the developer license and then you still have to be accepted by the console maker and are then at their mercy. Developing for iOS costs $99 per year and all the tools are free. It is a lot easier to get a game onto the App Store. If Apple does the same for the AppleTV apps, that would be a big cost savings for indie game developers. Also any game they develop for AppleTV could also run on iPhones and iPads. In the future it could also run on the iWatch potentially. They are free to port their game to other platforms as well if it is successful.
  • Reply 15 of 37
    MacProMacPro Posts: 18,142member
    wizard69 wrote: »
    What is this nonsense? Especially with Apples ARM based products we are seeing incredibly good GPU performance that few in the industry can touch. Even with the Mac Apple has been doing well of late. Take the Mini for example which was revised to stress GPU performance.

    Five years ago I would have given your comments some credit but frankly it doesn't really hold water anymore. In many ways Apples IOS devices represent the best in class performance.

    Not referring to iOS, just MBP's. The 'nonsense' I refer to is years of GPU hardware failures on Macs, none of which were Apple's fault, I disagree profoundly with your 5 years statement with Macs. My MBP was luckily granted a new lease of life by Apple when my GPU totally failed in 2013, many were not as lucky and recent move by Apple corroborate my feelings that the GPUs have been an Achilles Heel in otherwise stellar equipment.
  • Reply 16 of 37
    MacProMacPro Posts: 18,142member
    foggyhill wrote: »
    They already have the best GPU in their phone and tablets (limitations in the phone are mainly for power reasons), not sure what your talking about. Having this in a tablet in 2.5 years would be a bit crazy though when considering game makers don't even make games right now that fully exploit current hardware.

    Sorry I was clear enough I'm talking about a potential to use this technology source in future Macs, I wasn't referring to iOS devices.
  • Reply 17 of 37

    That is only half of the Tegra X1 performance i don't understand what's all the fuss about the GT7900.

  • Reply 18 of 37
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by digitalclips View Post





    Not referring to iOS, just MBP's. The 'nonsense' I refer to is years of GPU hardware failures on Macs, none of which were Apple's fault, I disagree profoundly with your 5 years statement with Macs. My MBP was luckily granted a new lease of life by Apple when my GPU totally failed in 2013, many were not as lucky and recent moved by Apple corroborate my feelings that the GPUs have been an Achilles Heel in otherwise stellar equipment.

    Why are these GPU failures only happening on Macbooks then?

  • Reply 19 of 37
    An Apple model would be unable to take down the current high-end gaming market. As always, "it's the software, stupid" and the App Store doesn't have it. It has good mobile experiences but that's it (and that's where it should stay).

    The average game is now 15GB or larger in size (high-end titles fill a 50GB BD-ROM), they have multi-million dollar budgets, etc. The Wii market no longer exists.

    Gaming would be a small part of any AppleTV refresh, and I have doubts that Apple would be able to let go of design minimalism to produce a compelling gamepad. Considering the number of complaints I hear about the overly minimalist ATV remote, I think that'd be a big issue.

    As for the low end, well, Ouya didn't exactly storm the gate, and neither did FireTV.

    I don't know what causes the xBox and PS games to be so large but I can guess that the hardware needs to be so powerful is due to brute force way graphics are implemented. It's interesting to me how Apple is building iOS to handle graphics quite differently from other platforms. I see Apple getting the iPad to where it can do immersive graphics easily as good as any other platform. Especially with Swift and Metal included in the mix. I don't think the low end as you defined it is the way to go, but games that can easily done in a short stretch of time may have a following. These can be the type of games that can be written easily by a small team of programmers, sold for a lot less money and enjoyed for a fraction of the time.
  • Reply 20 of 37
    MacProMacPro Posts: 18,142member
    staticx57 wrote: »
    Why are these GPU failures only happening on Macbooks then?

    Probably on Mac Pros too but at least one can easily swap out a card in a Mac Pro so you don't hear that much about it as it is easily fixed and you can deal with the GPU vendor if necessary, directly. I had several cards replaced over the years as I always added the GPU cards in my Mac Pros myself. The MBPs are a different story and many have been plagued with GPU failures and it is a motherboard swap out then. Not always easy to get this done although now there has been some movement by Apple who hopefully put the screws on the third party manufacturers. This is why I am hoping for a more in house approach to GPU technology in general.
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