On Thursday Nvidia released a slide showing the progression of GPU performance in the console, PC and mobile sectors from 2001 to 2014. As Nvidia showed us last year, consoles have created a "Z" on the chart, jumping up one level after releasing a new version with better hardware, but flatlining for numerous years thereafter. They can outperform the PC on a graphic level thanks to an integrated design, but that victory is only brief to say the least as PC hardware performance steadily climbs.
What's shocking is the steep increase in GPU performance in the mobile sector. According to Nvidia's chart, devices began to show a real increase between 2008 and 2009, but the steepest climb thus far has been from 2010 until now. What's interesting is that Nvidia's chart shows the mobile GPU to be cranking out better graphics than the current Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 consoles starting 2013. That says a lot given that smartphones weren't even considered as competition until Apple released the iPhone in 2007.
To some degree, smartphones are in a "golden era," mirroring a similar era experienced in the 1990s when GPUs began to infiltrate the PC sector. Developers like id Software and Epic Games were always pushing the envelope, squeezing out every ounce of performance the current hardware could provide while also pushing hardware manufacturers to implement features into the next generation. We're seeing that again in the mobile sector, and it's downright fascinating to watch this technology mature so quickly.
On a visual level, the progression has been phenomenal. We've moved from monochrome Tetris-like games to console-quality titles like Modern Combat 3 in a span of a few years. The rise in visual performance wasn't quite so dramatic in the PC sector, moving from the likes of Wolfenstein 3D in 1992 (PC, Mac) to Return to Castle Wolfenstein in 2001 (PC, Mac, Xbox, PS2).
Naturally Nvidia's chart will change once Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo release their next-generation products. Reports indicate that the Wii U will likely reside with the current crop on a GPU level while the other two take another stab at pushing past PC-based GPU performance. Yet based on the sharp rise in the mobile sector, it looks highly likely that the console and mobile sectors will eventually merge. Today's top mobile chips are already on the same playing field as the Nintendo 3DS and Sony PlayStation Vita, if not better.