Samsung has been using ARM's Mali GPU architecture in its Galaxy S and Galaxy Note series from the very first generations. It has been rumored before that the company was working on creating its own GPUs, but it now looks that it's going to use Mali GPUs well into the future.
With the recent license, Samsung has secured not just all the recently announced Mali GPUs from the low-end Mali-T820 to the high-end Mali-T880, but also future yet undisclosed ARM GPUs. This could mean Samsung already has access to ARM's GPU plans and likes what it sees.
"The visual quality is a critical part of high-end mobile devices. The highly scalable and energy-efficient ARM Mali family gives us the flexibility we need to address a broad range of devices," said Jae Cheol Son, senior vice president, processor development team, Samsung Electronics.
By signing a long-term license such as this, it's likely Samsung obtained a lower license and royalty cost as well for future GPUs. Samsung must also believe it will continue to do well in the smartphone market for years to come for a long-term license to make sense.
It's also interesting that Samsung isn't going to consider Imagination's PowerVR GPUs over the next few years anymore. On occasion, Samsung has used PowerVR GPUs, either because some next-generation Mali GPU wasn't ready on time, or because it wanted to use more than a single GPU supplier.
At the same time, dealing with two sets of GPU architectures and drivers as well as trying to make them work in a coherent way with the CPU can be costly. ARM has lately made its GPUs better integrated with its CPUs, so Samsung could gain an advantage in terms of performance and power consumption as well as by using the two together.
Both Samsung and ARM are part of the Heterogeneous Systems Architecture (HSA) Foundation, which aims to make GPUs and other types of processors aid the CPU with compute power.
AMD, the initial backer of the HSA Foundation, has already announced chips that support HSA, and the ARM-based chips that support HSA should come out soon as well (probably next year). Investing in CPUs and GPUs that will work even better together in the future seems like a good idea for Samsung.
"Hundreds of millions of consumers have benefited from the longstanding collaboration between Samsung and ARM," said Mark Dickinson, general manager, media processing group, ARM. "ARM's leadership in graphics, coupled with this long-term agreement, will enable Samsung to deliver rich and exciting user experiences to consumers on any device."