The Big Unknown: Marvell’s GPU

The CPU core is simply one piece of the puzzle though. In the application processor business it’s the entire SoC that matters, not just the CPU core. While Intel, Samsung and TI (among others) license graphics cores from Imagination Technologies, Marvell uses a company called Vivante to provide graphics IP.

Only the ARMADA 500 and 600 series have hardware 3D graphics powered by Vivante’s GPU core. Unfortunately I have absolutely no information on its capabilities. Marvell is listing 1080p video playback as a feature so we at least have a full video decode engine.

Market Share and the Future

As I mentioned at the start of this piece, the ARM market is around 4 billion chips per year. Marvell expects this to grow to 5 billion as the market for smart devices expands (smartphones, smart TVs, smart, uh, otherthings).

Marvell itself shipped 1 billion processors last year, 65% of them with a core that implemented an ARM instruction set. The company has an engineering team (software + hardware) of over 1000 people, supposedly the largest ARM development team in the industry.

It takes this team around 6 months to get a chip from design to tapeout, add a couple more for integration and then to get it back from the fab. All in all you’re looking at a yearly cadence for new chips out of Marvell.

As smartphones become more PC-like in functionality, we’ll need to have faster hardware. Competition is a good thing and in the SoC space there’s lots of it. Marvell offers a unique twist on ARM, time will tell how it holds up to ARM’s own designs. Marvell believes it may even have more engineers working on microprocessors than ARM itself, something that will be necessary as these designs get more complex in the future.

In many senses the SoCs going into these smartphones are going through the same evolution we saw in the PC industry over the past 20 years, just on an accelerated schedule. I’m betting we’ll see the same sort of thinning in the SoC CPU and GPU markets as we did in the PC industry. We’re down to three companies in the PC space, wonder how many we’ll end up with in the SoC market.



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  • nofumble62 - Friday, October 30, 2009 - link

    Reading on a 5 inch screen is just suck. I used my kid's Ipod Touch, and it killed my eyes. The younger generation will all wear glass by 20. Brainwash your kids to be the Eye doctor. Reply
  • RinksCustoms - Wednesday, October 21, 2009 - link

    While Parallax's 8 Core microcontroller (the Propeller P8X32A) has been out since '06 with each of its internal processors each having dedicated video hardware, it's been limited to the code it could run. But looking back at it now, looks like the industry either came to the same logical conclusion OR seen a little peek of what a small company from CA could do with their very own architecture. Although the Propeller cant run like an x86 chip, it can interface with standard keyboard/mouse and output standard video composite, s-video, broadcast (analog), or VGA while doing other functions, i have seen its limitations, and it usually comes down to two things, not enough i/o pins and on board memory.
    But we see where this idea is leading with onboard video and PCIe controllers being integrated on new and next gen intel CPU's
  • iwodo - Monday, October 19, 2009 - link

    I was hoping Marvell would make a faster SoC for NAS. Current implementation could not fully utilize the Gigabit Bandwidth.
    While Intel Atom has been performing much better, although at the cost of Power.
  • PandaBear - Monday, October 19, 2009 - link

    I just have to say the author of the article is so misinformed about ARM.

    It is not intended to be a General Purposed PC processor and the main market is embedded device inside ASIC. Some of these ASIC have multiple ARM inside.

    The benefit of ARM is small code size and power consumption, processing power density, rather than absolute power.

    You can build an ARM CPU inside an ASIC and together they cost 14 cents or less. Try that with atom and see how much it cost.

    Marvell's main market has been doing well for a long time: power efficient ASIC for hard drives, networking, and other market. It is not really a direct competitor with Intel. The deal with Global Foundry is just like with any other foundry.
  • ProDigit - Tuesday, October 20, 2009 - link

    With Atom VS ARM I meant the ARM which is focused on netbooks, not the other ones.
    I'm active a lot on netbook forums,and perhaps forget to mention I'm talking about them.

    I'm less interested in a MID device, because I believe it does not have a level of comfortability to type, and their screensize is terrible too!
    I don't know why many manufacturers are trying to cramp the whole PC experience in a cellphone!
    All I can say to that is that it's surely not comfortable, small keyboard, too small screen (can't even see a regular google search page, without having to go for the mobile one), processing power is too slow to successfully display flash movies or other movies, and their battery life is often too low to spend 2 hours on the internet,at speeds similar to a 56k modem or 112kbps ISDN connection.

    Those are my thoughts about the matter;I prefer a cellphone for calling only, with an agenda, and alarm clock. The rest is added cost and bagage to me!
    Then a netbook for all the standard tasks like internet, and small apps.

    But that's besides the point of the article.
    I honestly see no future in this MID market. It's a gadget market people will grow tired of very soon I believe.
    Unless one device does it all with respectable battery life, like being an MP3/WMA/OGG player, with built in camera, and act as a cellphone, while keeping a 7day battery charge, many of these gadgets will be considered luxuries not needed.

    And especially the excitement factor of a crippled Internet on the go on a cell's screen is pretty low I'd say!
  • strikeback03 - Tuesday, October 20, 2009 - link

    See, I'd say MIDs are more useful than netbooks. A netbook is too big to fit in any pocket, which means I would need some type of a bag, and at that point I'd just go for a more powerful ultraportable that could also function as a real laptop. I don't try to use the internet on my phone for watching videos or other things I do on a real computer, it is for quickly looking stuff up on the go. What I would like to see is far better battery life though, I can easily kill the battery in my Diamond with a decent amount of texting plus random other usage in a day. Reply
  • DLeRium - Monday, October 19, 2009 - link

    I don't think Anand's that clueless about the mobile market, but a lot of users here are PC enthusiasts as am I. However I've followed the mobile market for years be it the Symbian, WinMo, and now iPhone, Palm, BB scene.

    Too many people go OMG INTEL's ATOM is the next big thing. However it was Intel's attempt to scale down Centrino/Core architecture into netbooks. It's not for the mobile arena just yet. ARM is building up meanwhile and NVidia has demoed Tegra + GeForce doing amazing things. Netbooks might be able to be powered by Cortex A9s soon enough.

    Anand's focus on a CPU this time is very good. I don't like it when he jumps into analyzing the mobile market, especially from a US iPhone fanboi perspective. It really distorts things.
  • The0ne - Monday, October 19, 2009 - link

    I have to agree that ARM is not a direct competitor at this point in time. However, if Intel penetrates more of ARMs market there would be little doubt that it is in direct competition even if the hardware is different. I don't see this happening anytime soon as well. We use ARM in our products for the reasons you've describe. Cost and code size. You really can't beat that :)

    Next year should be fun with the technology :D Can't wait!
  • Voo - Monday, October 19, 2009 - link

    We all know, that Intel at least in the long term wants to penetrate the smartphone market (and similar things like ebooks as well?) and I'm rather sure that the ARM chips in a iphone or palm pre cost more than 14 cents.

    Sure that's only a fraction of the whole market, but I'd think it's rather lucrative..
  • Voo - Monday, October 19, 2009 - link

    We really need a edit function..

    Can someone explain to me, why the codesize should be smaller with a smaller instruction set than a larger one? I'd think it should be the other way round, but I'm clearly not the expert here.

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