Imagination's new GPU could power Apple iPhone 8 graphics

Imagination Technologies' high-end Series8XT GPU architecture is coming next year.

Dell Venue 8 with PowerVR
Alexandru Voica/Imagination Technologies

Apple's powerful iPhone 7 GPU is based on Imagination Technologies' PowerVR GT7600 architecture, and a possible successor could come next year.

Imagination will release the Series8XT family of GPUs, which could provide the underlying technology for graphics in the iPhone 8. It will succeed the Series7XT family of GPUs, which is the base architecture for the PowerVR GT7600 in the iPhone 7.

Analyst firm Linley Group said the iPhone 7 GPU is the fastest among all mobile processors when operating at peak speed. The Series8XT will be even faster, and perhaps more power efficient. The iPhone 7 GPU can overheat quickly if it runs at peak speed for a long time.

Imagination didn't provide further details on the 8XT or a specific release date, and did not say if the GPU would be in the iPhone 8. But Apple has used PowerVR in every iPhone to date, and recently started tuning the architecture to work better with its mobile devices.

Imagination designs GPUs and licenses it to companies like Apple and Intel. Apple is also a minority shareholder in Imagination.

Apple has been notoriously quiet about the underlying technology in its A-series chips. Linley Group only recently unveiled that the iPhone 7 GPU was based on PowerVR GT7600 architecture.

The 8XT could be introduced in late February at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, where Imagination is showing off its PowerVR GPU. The company has used GDC to launch new GPU architectures in the past.

The high-end 8XT architecture is a "technology generator" and will host many new GPU features developed by Imagination, said Graham Deacon, senior director of business operations for PowerVR at Imagination.

Imagination will focus on putting more performance in 8XT, Deacon said.

Beyond smartphones, the company's GPUs also are used in set-top boxes, TVs and other devices requiring graphics power or focusing on visual computing. Imagination this year released the 8XE GPU, which was focused on the fast-growing low-end and mid-range phones market. The Series8XT will offer more performance.

Imagination's PowerVR was once competitive in smartphones, but has lost share as competition grows. ARM's Mali GPUs based on the Bitfrost architecture are catching on strong, and Qualcomm, which is the mobile chip leader, has its own Adreno GPU.  Nvidia has the best mobile GPU, but it is being targeted at automotive and machine learning applications.

There are other areas of growth for Imagination GPUs outside of smartphones, especially in automotive and set-top boxes, Deacon said. Imagination is developing many more technologies to boost graphics, and supporting vectors like image analysis add value to PowerVR GPUs.

There are also opportunities in machine learning, and PowerVR could play a big role in enabling self-driving cars. Imagination is developing algorithms, and has been demonstrating neural networks running on GPU computing.

Imagination is also mixing up its MIPS CPU architecture with PowerVR for drones and robots, which heavily rely on visual computing and image analysis.

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