ARM has been doing better at shipping graphics cores than it has been given credit for, according to Jem Davies, ARM Fellow and vice president of technology for the media processing division.
Some rather underwhelming estimates of ARM's position in the graphics core licensing market – and the passage of time – have persuaded the company to be more explicit about how it performed in 2011 and add context to how it is likely to perform in 2012.
ARM's licensing pipeline for its Mali GPUs is well known, but such pipelines tend to be a couple of years long and a license does not guarantee shipped devices or royalties earned. ARM claims that Mali is the most widely licensed graphics processor architecture with 60 licenses signed with 48 different partners. These numbers include 32 licenses for the Mali-4XX series, the state of ARM's art currently shipping and 7 Mali-T6XX licenses which is the next-generation being worked into silicon.
In terms of market share based on shipped devices, ARM claims 70 percent of digital television and 50 percent of the Android tablet computer. All well and good but likely to be much smaller numbers than the iPhone and iPad where rival Imagination is Apple's GPU provider of choice.
That's how a recent report on the embedded graphics market by Jon Peddie Research (JPR) saw the situation. It gave the graphics core licensing crown to Imagination Technologies Group plc (see Imagination outstrips all other GPU IP suppliers). Nobody contests that, but Jon Peddie's team, in the absence of hard data, estimated ARM's market share at about one-twentieth of Imagination's and behind that of Vivante Corp. (Sunnyvale, Calif.) a 2004 GPU licensing startup.
ARM has now revealed that 48 million units with Mali GPU cores inside shipped in 2011. Imagination was on course to take royalties on between 300 million and 320 million units shipped in its financial year, which ended April 30.
This of course is not comparing like-with-like but it means that for calendar year 2011 GPUs from market leader Imagination were included in somewhere between 250 million and 300 million units and this puts ARM at between one-fifth and one-sixth the volume of Imagination – or as Davies described it "a credible number two."
The expectation for ARM graphics in 2012 has also moved up in a subtle way – instead of ARM saying it expects to ship about 100 million units in 2012 it is now predicting it will ship more than 100 million units in 2012 from 25 partner companies.
The good news for ARM, Imagination and other graphics specialists, according to Davies, is that the GPU market will be about 2 billion units in 2015.
Which company will be number one and which will be number two is not certain – but an each-way bet on ARM and Imagination to both place would seem to make sense.
Thanks for this interesting article, Peter. The good news for everyone is that the market is growing so there is something for existing firms and perhaps new ones as well. I think ARM will use their economies of scope and scale advantages to increase their market share successfully.
David Patterson, known for his pioneering research that led to RAID, clusters and more, is part of a team at UC Berkeley that recently made its RISC-V processor architecture an open source hardware offering. We talk with Patterson and one of his colleagues behind the effort about the opportunities they see, what new kinds of designs they hope to enable and what it means for today’s commercial processor giants such as Intel, ARM and Imagination Technologies.