Wearables get their own graphics processor

There’s been a lot of talk in recent weeks about chip manufacturers like ARM and Qualcomm entering the wearables game and even Intel, with its Edison platform is looking to bring some of its general and central processing powers to the wearable sector. Something we haven’t heard a lot from though and what has been driving the performance boost in smartphones in recent years, is GPUs, or graphics processing units. These chips can pump out three dimensional polygons like it’s nobody’s business and now wearables have their very own, custom designed GPU that could usher in much more graphically impressive wearables in the near future.

Produced by California based chip maker Vivante, the new GPU comes in sizes from 0.3mm squared, up to a maximum of 1.6mm square. They come in two flavours as well, the VGA/WVGA supporting 100-200MHz GC nano Lite and 200MHz GC Nano, and the hefiter 720P supporting 200-400MHz GC Nano Ultra and Nano Ultra cubed. These chips run OpenGL 2.0 and OpenGL 3.0 respectively.


These GPUs make it possible for wearable manufacturers to produce much more graphically intense applications without sacrificing too much in the way of power usage and can even do so without an OS thanks to Vivanti’s API. Designed to work with Tizen and Android, Vivanti is aiming this device at the biggest available (and more importantly open) markets.

These chips are also designed to work without any RAM and without much in the way of CPU overhead, so there needn’t be a beefy CPU under the hood of the wearable device.

The only real question about the future of such chips though, is will we see APUs (where graphics processor and CPU are combined into one all-purpose chip) become dominant in wearables, or if the form factor allows for the larger separation of the two platforms, therefore allowing for more heftier chips to be fielded?

Despite this potential for derailing though, Vivanti’s CEO Wei-Jin Dai is very excited about the future prospects of wearables and his company’s involvement in their production: “Wearables and [the Internet of Things] will create a new way of accessing, analyzing and displaying data much like the smartphone has changed the way we access information. To create compelling wearables and IoT products that meet user demand for intuitive UIs, size, weight and power, the industry has expanded to include application specific MCU/MPU hardware to enable a new category of products. Graphical UIs are a key driver in product adoption and traditional MCU/MPU platforms have historically focused on simple UI displays, which fragment those products from typical consumer devices,” he said.

“To solve this problem we developed the GCNano Series with careful attention to the ultra-fine details like silicon size, low power, memory footprint, driver size, bandwidth reduction and display controller / UI pairing, minimal CPU overhead and image quality to create an amazing user experience on these new MCUs/MPUs. These leading innovations continue to make our Smaller-Faster-Cooler GPU IP the ‘gold standard’ in PPA and feature robustness in all market segments.”