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Friday, January 09, 2009, 07:30 pm PT (10:30 pm ET)

New PowerVR chip may give Apple's future iPhone HD, OpenCL

Hidden among the many announcements at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas is a new PowerVR mobile graphics chip that could power advanced 3D, HD video and even general computing on an eventual generation of iPhones.

Imagination Technologies has quietly slipped out word this week of a new mobile chip known as the PowerVR SGX543.

The silicon is the company's fifth generation of graphics accelerators for cellphones and other handhelds and contains a much more efficient instruction set with particular optimizations for rendering graphics shaders, or the visual effects that apply to pixels onscreen and geometry in 3D views. Imagination reckons that its new technology is about 40 percent faster for "shader-heavy" software and can push as many as 50 percent more triangles when handling 3D.

In practice, the technology is powerful enough to push 35 million polygons per second and 1 billion pixels per second and can thus easily drive HD resolution video output, including when 3D is involved.

Moreover, the new SGX chip is very efficient and very scalable, according to the company. That same performance is achievable at a clock speed of just 200MHz, making it relatively power-efficient, but can be improved further still with new multi-core support that would let a device maker join two or more cores together to ramp up the speed in the devices with the physical space and battery power to use the hardware.

But the most important aspect of the PowerVR chip may be the universal nature of its processor. The GPU is capable of handling Apple's now open and virtually finished OpenCL standard for speeding up general computing and letting it move to non-CPU technology such as graphics chips, even on mobile devices.

Imagination has lately been hiring OpenCL engineers to ensure its hardware supports the compute standard.

As of the present, it's unknown whether or not the OpenCL move is being made with Apple's iPhone and iPod touch in mind; the existing iPhone has used an older PowerVR MBX core for its graphics in two generations and isn't currently known to be making the leap to SGX. However, Apple is now a major PowerVR licensee and has boosted the number of shares it holds in Britain-based Imagination, all but committing iPhones to using future PowerVR advancements.

SGX543's inventor pledges to provide more information about the product at the Multicore Expo in March.