Dec

8

How Mobile Gaming Is Spurring Graphics Chip Makers On

Mark Stephens

You can’t really have a great mobile game without great mobile graphics, though the old fans of Tetris may disagree! As mobile gaming continues to boom, the demand for more sophisticated graphics for mobile devices also advances; it presents many challenges because of the obvious size, memory, processor power and battery restrictions of the mobile devices like smart phones and tablets; we take a look at that below.

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The Role of Graphics

Graphics play a central role in nearly any mobile game; despite some die-hard fans pining for the halcyon days of the early 1990s, gaming has pretty much moved on from coloured blocks being lowered into a pile that you have to arrange!

Many people who play games on their mobile phones and tablets have been bought up on a diet of PC Games, becoming more action based and leading to video game consoles and then specialist mobile gaming devices.

So it’s not surprising that many are crying out for a similar gaming experience on their handsets and tablets that they are used to getting elsewhere with games.

Add to this the growing numbers of people playing games (around 60% of people use their mobile phone regularly for games according to Qualcomm) and the fact that games dominate all the app charts on the App stores, and you have an electric market place.

This seems to be literally forcing the hands of the graphics chip makers to work even quicker with the major hardware manufacturers to create more powerful devices capable of playing more sophisticated games.

The Major Graphics Players

The two main companies in the business of making graphics chips are Nvidia and Qualcomm who, in 2009, bought Advanced Micro Devices (AMD).

These makers both come from a PC graphics background; they have entered the mobile device market because of the undoubted opportunities presented originally by the likes of the iPhone – which turned mobile phones into a totally display-oriented medium relying on graphics chips.

Both companies are finding that keeping up with demand of the mobile gaming industry is very challenging because of the pace of that change; but the huge opportunities mean there is big competition for the upper hand in designing the best and most powerful processors for the device manufacturers.

These graphics chips are complex creations, capable of rendering 3-D environments similar to many of the current video games and creating pictures of hundreds of thousands of pixels.

The Problem of Balance

Apple and Android device manufacturers, and their suppliers of graphics, processors, batteries and memory are playing something of a delicate balancing act.

The technology for more advanced graphics chips is already there but there’s no point if it’s going to wear the battery out in half an hour of keep freezing due to lack of memory or processing power.

Think about the graphics card for your PC; it probably uses a lot of power and may have a cooling fan built in because of the heat it generates; imagine that in a device like an iPhone and you can see the challenge – but it’s one that both Nvidia and Qualcomm are confident they have solutions for, with far more energy-efficient chips being produced now.

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In fact, more and more mobile phone processors aren’t just processors – they are also graphics cards and wireless radios or “SOCs”– systems on a chip. Examples are Qualcomm’s Snapdragon, Nvidia’s Tegra 2 and Apple’s A4.

Looking Ahead

We see competition between the main graphics chip makers increasing because the mobile gaming market isn’t going away any time soon. Chip makers can continue to pour money into creating new solutions so it should continue to advance quickly – which can only be good news for you gamers out there.

The release of the iPhone4S with a graphics processor that is seven times faster than in the iPhone 4 shows where we are heading and we can expect more of the same.

Monkeybin will keep you up to date with advances as they happen.