Who Should Care? Thankfully, Many People

The Khronos Group has made three announcements today: Vulkan (their competitor to DirectX 12), OpenCL 2.1, and SPIR-V. Because there is actually significant overlap, we will discuss them in a single post rather than splitting them up. Each has a role in the overall goal to access and utilize graphics and compute devices.


Before we get into what everything is and does, let's give you a little tease to keep you reading. First, Khronos designs their technologies to be self-reliant. As such, while there will be some minimum hardware requirements, the OS pretty much just needs to have a driver model. Vulkan will not be limited to Windows 10 and similar operating systems. If a graphics vendor wants to go through the trouble, which is a gigantic if, Vulkan can be shimmed into Windows 8.x, Windows 7, possibly Windows Vista despite its quirks, and maybe even Windows XP. The words “and beyond” came up after Windows XP, but don't hold your breath for Windows ME or anything. Again, the further back in Windows versions you get, the larger the “if” becomes but at least the API will not have any “artificial limitations”.

Outside of Windows, the Khronos Group is the dominant API curator. Expect Vulkan on Linux, Mac, mobile operating systems, embedded operating systems, and probably a few toasters somewhere.

On that topic: there will not be a “Vulkan ES”. Vulkan is Vulkan, and it will run on desktop, mobile, VR, consoles that are open enough, and even cars and robotics. From a hardware side, the API requires a minimum of OpenGL ES 3.1 support. This is fairly high-end for mobile GPUs, but it is the first mobile spec to require compute shaders, which are an essential component of Vulkan. The presenter did not state a minimum hardware requirement for desktop GPUs, but he treated it like a non-issue. Graphics vendors will need to be the ones making the announcements in the end, though.

Before we go further, some background is necessary. Read on for that and lots more!

Subject: Processors, Mobile
Manufacturer: Intel

SoFIA, Cherry Trail Make Debuts

Mobile World Congress is traditionally dominated by Samsung, Qualcomm, HTC, and others yet Intel continues to make in-roads into the mobile market. Though the company has admittedly lost a lot of money during this growing process, Intel pushes forward with today's announcement of a trio of new processor lines that keep the Atom brand. The Atom x3, the Atom x5, and the Atom x7 will be the company's answer in 2015 for a wide range of products, starting at the sub-$75 phone market and stretching up to ~$400 tablets and all-in-ones.


There are some significant differences in these Atom processors, more than the naming scheme might indicate.

Intel Atom x3 SoFIA Processor

For years now we have questioned Intel's capability to develop a processor that could fit inside the thermal envelope that is required for a smartphone while also offering performance comparable to Qualcomm, MediaTek, and others. It seemed that the x86 architecture was a weight around Intel's ankles rather than a float lifting it up. Intel's answer was the development of SoFIA, (S)mart (o)r (F)eature phone with (I)ntel (A)rchitecture. The project started about 2 years ago leading to product announcements finally reaching us today. SoFIA parts are "designed for budget smartphones; SoFIA is set to give Qualcomm and MediaTek a run for their money in this rapidly growing part of the market."


The SoFIA processors are based on the same Silvermont architecture as the current generation of Atom processors, but they are more tuned for power efficiency. Originally planned to be a dual-core only option, Intel has actually built both dual-core and quad-core variants that will pair with varying modem options to create a combination that best fit target price points and markets. Intel has partnered with RockChip for these designs, even though the architecture is completely IA/x86 based. Production will be done on a 28nm process technology at an unnamed vendor, though you can expect that to mean TSMC. This allows RockChip access to the designs, to help accelerate development, and to release them into the key markets that Intel is targeting.

Continue reading our look at the new Intel Atom x3, x5 and x7 Processors!!

MWC 15: LG Demos WebOS Smartwatch ("Urbane LTE")

Subject: General Tech, Mobile, Shows and Expos | March 1, 2015 - 09:46 PM |
Tagged: webOS, smartwatch, mwc 15, MWC, LG

A while ago, LG licensed WebOS from HP for use in their smart TVs and, as we found out during CES, smart watches.

The LG Urbane LTE is one such device, and we can finally see it in action. It is based around (literally) a circular P-OLED display (320 x 320, 1.3-inches, 245 ppi). Swirling your finger around the face scrolls through the elements like a wheel, which should be significantly more comfortable to search through a large list of applications than a linear list of elements -- a lot like an iPod (excluding the Touch and the Shuffle). That said, I have only seen other people use it.


The SoC is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 400, clocked at 1.2 GHz. It supports LTE, Wireless-N, Bluetooth 4.0LE, and NFC. It has 1 GB of RAM, which is quite a bit, and 4GB of permanent storage, which is not. It also has a bunch of sensors, from accelerometers and gyros to heart rate monitors and a barometer. It has a speaker and a microphone, but no camera. LG flaunts a 700 mAh battery, which they claim is “the category's largest”, but they do not link that to an actual amount of usage time (only that it “go[es] for days in standby mode”).

Video credit: The Verge

Pricing has not yet been announced, but it should hit the US and Europe before May arrives.

Source: LG

HTC Announces Vive VR Headset in Partnership with Valve

Subject: General Tech, Mobile, Shows and Expos | March 1, 2015 - 05:16 PM |
Tagged: MWC, mwc 15, GDC, gdc 15, htc, valve, vive, vive vr, Oculus

Mobile World Congress (MWC) and Game Developers Conference (GDC) severely overlap this year, and not just in dates apparently. HTC just announced the Vive VR headset at MWC, which was developed alongside Valve. The developer edition will contain two 1200x1080 displays with a 90Hz refresh rate, and it will launch this spring. The consumer edition will launch this holiday. They made sure to underline 2015, so you know they're serious. Want more information? Well that will be for Valve to discuss at GDC.


The confusing part: why is this not partnered with Oculus? When Michael Abrash left Valve to go there, I assumed that it was Valve shedding its research to Facebook's subsidiary and letting them take the hit. Now, honestly, it seems like Facebook just poached Abrash, Valve said “oh well”, and the two companies kept to their respective research. Who knows? Maybe that is not the case. We might find out more at GDC, but you would expect that Oculus would be mentioned if they had any involvement at all.

Valve will host an event on the second official day of GDC, March 3rd at 3pm. In other words, Valve will make an announcement on 3/3 @ 3. Could it involve Left 4 Dead 3? Portal 3? Will they pull a Crytek and name their engine Source 3? Are they just trolling absolutely everyone? Will it have something to do with NVIDIA's March 3rd announcement? Do you honestly think I have any non-speculative information about this? No. No I don't. There, I answered one of those questions.

Source: HTCVR

MWC 2015: Samsung Has Officially Announced the New Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge Smartphones

Subject: Mobile | March 1, 2015 - 02:01 PM |
Tagged: SoC, smartphones, Samsung, MWC 2015, MWC, Galaxy S6 Edge, galaxy s6, Exynos 7420, 14nm

Samsung has announced the new Galaxy S phones at MWC, and the new S6 and S6 Edge should be in line with what you were expecting if you’ve followed recent rumors.


The new Samsung Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge (Image credit: Android Central)

As expected we no longer see a Qualcomm SoC powering the new phones, and as the rumors had indicated Samsung opted instead for their own Exynos 7 Octa mobile AP. The Exynos SoC’s have previously been in international versions of Samsung’s mobile devices, but they have apparently ramped up production to meet the demands of the US market as well. There is an interesting twist here, however.


The Exynos 7420 powering both the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge is an 8-core SoC with ARM’s big.LITTLE design, combining four ARM Cortex-A57 cores and four Cortex-A53 cores. Having announced 14nm FinFET mobile AP production earlier in February the possibility of the S6 launching with this new part was interesting, as the current process tech is 20nm HKMG for the Exynos 7. However a switch to this new process so soon before the official announcement seemed unlikely as large-scale 14nm FinFET production was just unveiled on February 16. Regardless, AnandTech is reporting that the new part will indeed be produced using this new 14nm process technology, and this gives Samsung an industry-first for a mobile SoC with the launch of the S6/S6 Edge.

GSM Arena has specs of the Galaxy S6 posted, and here’s a brief overview:

  • Display: 5.1” Super AMOLED, QHD resolution (1440 x 2560, ~577 ppi), Gorilla Glass 4
  • OS: Android OS, v5.0 (Lollipop) - TouchWiz UI
  • Chipset: Exynos 7420
  • CPU: Quad-core 1.5 GHz Cortex-A53 & Quad-core 2.1 GHz Cortex-A57
  • GPU: Mali-T760
  • Storage/RAM: 32/64/128 GB, 3 GB RAM
  • Camera: (Primary) 16 MP, 3456 x 4608, optical image stabilization, autofocus, LED flash
  • Battery: 2550 mAh (non-removable)

The new phones both feature attractive styling with metal and glass construction and Gorilla Glass 4 sandwiching the frame, giving each phone a glass back.


The back of the new Galaxy S6 (Image credit: Android Central)

The guys at Android Central (source) had some pre-release time with the phones and have a full preview and hands-on video up on their site. The new phones will be released worldwide on April 10, and no specifics on pricing have been announced.

Ahead of MWC, 2015 Is Shaping up to Be a Good Year for Low-Cost Smartphones

Subject: Mobile | February 28, 2015 - 04:42 PM |
Tagged: smartphones, MWC 2015, MWC, Moto E, LG Magna, ios, Android 5.0

Last year my favorite smartphone became the 2014 version of the Moto G. This was (and still is) a $179 unlocked Android phone that shipped with 4.4.4 KitKat, but recently received an OTA update to 5.0 Lollipop (and subsequently 5.0.2 via a second OTA update). Motorola’s aggressive pricing made the phone compelling on paper, but using the device was even more impressive. It looked good, with a 5-inch 720p IPS display and the same design language as the Moto X and later Nexus 6, and ran a virtually untouched stock Android OS. It was never going to win any awards for raw speed, but the quad-core Snapdragon 400 SoC was plenty fast for daily use. The main drawback was a glaring one, however: the Moto G was not LTE capable. Enter the new Moto E.


The Moto E 2nd Edition

Here are some quick specs from Motorola:

Moto E 2nd Edition (LTE capable)
4.5” 540x960 display
Android 5.0.x
Snapdragon 410
Quad-core 1.2GHz Cortex-A53/Adreno 306
1GB RAM/8GB storage
2390 mAh battery
Unlocked, $149

We are already off to a solid start in 2015 with a great option from Motorola in the new 2nd edition Moto E. This LTE capable smartphone might look a little chunky, but the specs make it more that just a compelling option at $149 (unlocked) as it could have the disruptive impact on price that Microsoft just couldn’t make last year with their inexpensive Lumia phones. With 2015’s Mobile World Congress (MWC) fast approaching the Moto E has already been making some noise in the affordable phone space that last year’s Moto G played a big part in, and this time the message is clear: in 2015 a smartphone needs to have LTE, regardless of price.

To be fair Microsoft has already addressed need for LTE with their low-cost Windows Phone devices like the Lumia 635 (which is actually selling for just $49 on Amazon now), but the app ecosystem for the platform is just too restrictive to make it a viable solution compared to Android and iOS. Honestly, I love the Windows Phone OS but there are too many missing apps to make it a daily driver. So, since Windows clearly isn’t the answer and Apple won’t be selling a sub-$200 unlocked smartphone anytime soon (the cheapest unlocked iPhone is the 8GB 5c at $450), that leaves Android (of course).


LG's 2015 mid-range smartphone lineup

Another possibility comes from LG, as ahead of MWC there was a press release from the company showcasing their new “mid-range” smartphone lineup for 2015. Among the models listed is another phone that matches the specs associated with a $200-ish unlocked phone, but pricing has not been announced yet.

LG Magna (LTE capable) - Unreleased
5.0” 720x1280 display
Android 5.0.x
Quad-core 1.2/1.3GHz
1GB RAM, 8GB storage
2540 mAh battery

We await the announcements from MWC and there are sure to be many other examples of low-cost LTE devices, but already it’s looking like it won’t take more than $200 and a SIM card to avoid the endless device upgrade cycle in 2015.

Imagination Launches PowerVR GT7900, "Super-GPU" Targeting Consoles

Subject: Graphics Cards, Mobile | February 26, 2015 - 02:15 PM |
Tagged: super-gpu, PowerVR, Imagination Technologies, gt7900

As a preview to announcements and releases being made at both Mobile World Congress (MWC) and the Game Developers Summit (GDC) next week, Imagination Technologies took the wraps off of a new graphics product they are calling a "super-GPU". The PowerVR GT7900 is the new flagship GPU as a part of its Series7XT family that is targeting a growing category called "affordable game consoles." Think about the Android-powered set-top devices like the Ouya or maybe Amazon's Kindle TV.


PowerVR breaks up its GPU designs into unified shading clusters (USCs) and the GT7900 has 16 of them for a total of 512 ALU cores. Imagination has previously posted a great overview of its USC architecture design and how you can compare its designs to other GPUs on the market. Imagination wants to claim that the GT7900 will offer "PC-class gaming experiences" though that is as ambiguous as the idea of a work load of a "console-level game." But with rated peak performance levels hitting over 800 GFLOPS in FP32 and 1.6 TFLOPS in FP16 (half-precision) this GPU does have significant theoretical capability.

  PowerVR GT7900 Tegra X1
Vendor Imagination Technologies NVIDIA
FP32 ALUs 512 256
FP32 GFLOPS 800 512
FP16 GFLOPS 1600 1024
GPU Clock 800 MHz 1000 MHz
Process Tech 16nm FinFET+ 20nm TSMC

Imagination also believes that PowerVR offers a larger portion of its peak performance for a longer period of time than the competition thanks to the tile-based deferred rendering (TBDR) approach that has been "refined over the years to deliver unmatched efficiency."


The FP16 performance number listed above is useful as an extreme power savings option where the half-precision compute operates in a much more efficient manner. A fair concern is how many applications, GPGPU or gaming, actually utilize the FP16 data type but having support for it in the GT7900 allows developers to target it.

Other key features of the GT7900 include support for OpenGL ES 3.1 + AEP (Android Extension Pack), hardware tessellation and ASTC LDR and HDR texture compression standards. The GPU also can run in a multi-domain virtualization mode that would allow multiple operating systems to run in parallel on a single platform.


Imagination believes that this generation of PowerVR will "usher a new era of console-like gaming experiences" and will showcase a new demo at GDC called Dwarf Hall.

I'll be at GDC next week and have already setup a meeting with Imagination to talk about the GT7900 so I can have some hands on experiences to report back with soon. I am continually curious about the market for these types of high-end "mobile" GPUs with the limited market that the Android console market currently addresses. Imagination does claim that the GT7900 is beating products with performance levels as high as the GeForce GT 730M discrete GPU - no small feat.

Dell's Venue 8 7000 continues to impress

Subject: Mobile | February 25, 2015 - 04:46 PM |
Tagged: z3580, venue 8 7000, venue, tablet, silvermont, moorefield, Intel, dell, atom z3580, Android

Dell's Venue 8 7000 tablet sports an 8.4" 2560x1600 OLED display and is powered by the Moorefield based Atom Z3580 SOC, 2GB LPDDR3-1600 with 16GB internal of internal storage with up to a 512GB Micro SD card supported.  Even more impressive is that The Tech Report had no issues installing apps or moving files to the SD card with ES File Explorer, unlike many Android devices that need certain programs to reside on the internal storage media.   Like Ryan, they had a lot of fun with the RealSense Camera and are looking forward to the upgrade to Lollipop support.  Check out The Tech Report's opinion of this impressive Android tablet right here.


"Dell's Venue 8 7000 is the thinnest tablet around, and that's not even the most exciting thing about it. This premium Android slate packs a Moorefield-based Atom processor with quad x86 cores, a RealSense camera that embeds 3D depth data into still images, and a staggeringly beautiful OLED display that steals the show. Read on for our take on a truly compelling tablet."

Here are some more Mobile articles from around the web:


NVIDIA Brings Saint's Row IV to #SHIELDTuesday. Up Next: Alan Wake and then Metro: Last Light Redux

Subject: General Tech, Mobile | February 20, 2015 - 07:00 AM |
Tagged: shieldtuesday, shield, Saints Row IV, nvidia, metro last light, gridtuesday, grid, alan wake

Once again, NVIDIA brings some really good games to their GRID service, which is currently free for all SHIELD owners. The concept is that NVIDIA will compute the graphics at their server farms, accept your input, and return an audio/video stream of the result. This is a very convenient way to access content, but it cannot replace actual ownership for guaranteed access to specific art that find intrinsically valuable. It can help you discover new content, though.


This week, Saint's Row IV is available to be played on the GRID gaming service. Its predecessor, Saint's Row: The Third, was published on GRID earlier this month. It would be good to play them in order, and they are both worth your time. I did find that the campaign of Saint's Row IV was a bit less unique because the majority of missions were a handful of side-missions strung together, while Saint's Row: The Third had more scenario-based objectives, with the side-missions as an option to build up stats (or just be fun) between these. On the other hand, the movement mechanics were genius in IV. Play them both.

Looking ahead, next Tuesday will be Alan Wake. This is a survival-horror title from Remedy that makes you appreciate just how long your batteries last in real life. Basically, electricity is light and light is a vulnerability for the monsters that want to destroy you. The week after, the third of March, is Metro: Last Light Redux. This is one of the most visually demanding games available, and it is still used as a GPU benchmark at this site.

Saint's Row IV went live last Tuesday, while Alan Wake arrives on the 24th and Metro: Last Light comes in last, on March 3rd.

Source: NVIDIA

NVIDIA Recants: Overclocking Returning to Mobile GPUs

Subject: Graphics Cards, Mobile | February 19, 2015 - 03:58 PM |
Tagged: nvidia, notebooks, mobile, gpu

After a week or so of debate circling NVIDIA's decsision to disable overclocking on mobility GPUs, we have word that the company has reconsidered and will be re-enabling the feature in next month's driver release:

As you know, we are constantly tuning and optimizing the performance of your GeForce PC.

We obsess over every possible optimization so that you can enjoy a perfectly stable machine that balances game, thermal, power, and acoustic performance.

Still, many of you enjoy pushing the system even further with overclocking.

Our recent driver update disabled overclocking on some GTX notebooks. We heard from many of you that you would like this feature enabled again. So, we will again be enabling overclocking in our upcoming driver release next month for those affected notebooks. 

If you are eager to regain this capability right away, you can also revert back to 344.75.

Now, I don't want to brag here, but we did just rail NVIDIA for this decision on last night's podcast...and then the decision was posted on NVIDIA's forums just four hours ago... I'm not saying, but I'm just saying!


All kidding aside, this is great news! And NVIDIA desperately needs to be paying attention to what consumers are asking for in order to make up for some poor decisions made in the last several months. Now (or at least soon), you will be able to return to your mobile GPU overclocking!