LONDON Ė The graphics unit in the recently launched Orion dual-core Cortex-A9 processor from Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. is based on the Mali intellectual property from ARM Holdings plc, according to an analyst with Royal Bank of Scotland.
Samsung (Seoul, South Korea) is a user of PowerVR graphics cores from Imagination Technologies Group plc (Kings Langley, England) which it has in the past used alongside ARM processors. However, ARM (Cambridge, England) is able to offer combination royalty deals for its graphics and CPU technology that, as long as its graphics technology is good enough, could drive out rival GPU offerings.
"Our checks indicate Samsung has designed ARM's GPU into its new mobile processor chip. This is a strategic win for ARM," said Didier Scemama, head of European technology research with RBS, in a note to clients. In addition the Orion looks set to go to high volume in 2011, he said.
The processor is designed for such applications as tablets, netbooks and smartphones and Scemama notes that Samsung is the world's largest vendor of application processors. Meanwhile Qualcomm (San Diego, Calif.) is currently introducing dual-cored 1.2-GHz to 1.5-GHz processors based on its own Scorpion core, which complies with the ARMv7 instruction set architecture. ST-Ericsson (Geneva, Switzerland) has its own dual-core Cortex-A9 plus Mali design, the U8500, which operates at up to 1.2-GHz clock frequency.
"We note that previously Samsung LSI has used IMG's [Imagination's] GPU in all versions of its application processor chips. The press release also states that Orion demonstrates a 5x improvement in GPU performance over the current generation, powered by IMG's GPU. This win for ARM comes six months after Samsung bought a Mali GPU licence. In addition, we believe this processor will generate PIPD (Physical Intellectual Property Division) royalties for ARM, as it is manufactured in Samsung LSI fabs, an ARM PIPD partner at 45-nm," added Scemama.
Scemama said that by combining CPU and GPU on the same die in Orion and in ST-Ericsson's U8500 chip ARM should be able to achieve a 2 percent royalty rate compared to the 1 percent royalty it sees on the majority of existing processors containing ARM cores.
The Orion processor has been designed into next-generation Galaxy smartphones and tablets which Scemama estimates could achieve volumes of 30 million units in the second half of 2011. This could yield between $9 million and $12 million of royalties for ARM, Scemama said while reiterating a "buy" recommendation for ARM stock and £4.20 target price for the stock on the London Stock Exchange.
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