Qualcomm forced to license Imagination GPUs for Windows 8 on ARM

March 30, 2012
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windows 8 arm qualcomm

Although Windows 8 will be available for ARM-based mobile processors in addition to the usual x86 chips, don’t expect to find the exactly same software running on an Intel Core i5 and an ARM-based quad-core Tegra 3. Nonetheless, the Windows 8 graphic design (and the technical requirements associated) will remain the same in both Windows 8 versions.

As a result, it turns out that Qualcomm (the company that sells the most systems-on-a-chip in the world) will have to make some rapid GPU improvements to the Snapdragon S4 SoC, so that it can properly run Microsoft’s upcoming universal OS.

While the Qualcomm-produced Adreno series of smartphone/tablet GPUs are historically top-notch when it comes to running Android apps, it seems that even the most advanced Adreno chip (i.e. the Adreno 225 GPU you can find inside the new Snapdragon S4) uses a deprecated version of DirectX, DX 9.

Unfortunately for Qualcomm, they are seriously outgunned in this department by their biggest competitor, Nvidia. Leaders in the GPU field (on a personal note, I’m impatiently looking towards the release of the first Kepler-based smartphone GPU), Nvidia boasts DX 11 technology in the 12-core GPU inside the Tegra 3. Granted, Windows 8 is compatible with DX9, but, the general perception is that, in order to make things tolerable for mobile GPUs, the latter will need to support at least DirectX 10.

arm tablet windows 8 qualcomm imagination chip

When Qualcomm announced (back in December 2011) that they will be licensing Imagination Technology patents, many people with knowledge on the matter were quite surprised. The reason? At the time, it seemed there were few reasons to get in bed with their main competitor in the mobile GPU market. In case you didn’t know, Imagination helped build the GPUs on the iPad 2 and iPhone 4S. In addition, Samsung and Texas Instruments also use Imagination designs in their GPUs. In case you also need some numbers to weigh this in, you should know that Imagination Technologies holds about half of all intellectual property in the embedded graphics sector.

Although it’s very likely that Qualcomm will continue to use its Adreno GPUs (designed by a former AMD handset division that Qualcomm bought a few years back) in their upcoming Android-targeted SoCs, rumor has it that the company has no intention of missing out on Windows 8 and the potentially massive sales associated with it.

In order to accommodate Windows 8, Qualcomm had to choose: build a new GPU that’s compatible with DirectX 10 (or maybe even the newest version of the API, DX 11) or license a chip from Imagination. If rumors are to be believed, it seems the latter choice seemed more reasonable (understandable, considering that Windows 8 is just months away). As a result, we might end up seeing the Imagination-built Rogue 5 GPU inside the Snapdragon S4 systems destined to run Windows 8.

What are your thoughts on this? Are these just meaningless speculations? Let us know what you think in the comment section below!