ASTC compression in ARM's Mali GPU cuts energy use


— 11:43 AM on January 24, 2014

We've been spending more time lately talking with folks in the world of licensed IP, where the CPUs, GPUs, and other components for mobile SoCs are developed. Once you look beyond the big desktop PC chip firms like Intel, AMD, and Nvidia, there's tremendous variety out there—and in some cases, innovations that move things forward for the entire industry. One such innovation recently is ARM's contribution of a new texture compression standard, dubbed ASTC for Adaptive Scalable Texture Compression, to OpenGL and OpenGL ES.

ASTC supports a broad range of color formats and bit rates, so graphics developers can manage the tradeoffs between performance and image quality in a way that fits their content. High-color formats for things like HDR are supported, and the compressed formats can go below a single bit of storage per pixel. Although ASTC is in the process of being adopted by a number of GPU makers, ARM's Mali GPUs are the first to implement ASTC support in hardware. I didn't catch it live at CES, but ARM has cooked up a demo showing ASTC in action on a Samsung Exynos SoC. The video is embedded below.

Since this is ARM and mobile devices, the demo focuses on the power efficiency benefits of texture compression, most of which come from reducing the bandwidth needed for data transfers on the device. I like that they quantify these benefits in joules per frame, since that's the right way to do it. (In fact, we really need to bring our CPU energy efficiency measurement methods over into our GPU coverage.) As you can see, although ASTC is a lossy compression method, it has the potential to reduce bandwidth consumption and thus energy use pretty dramatically without compromising image quality perceptibly.

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