Quad-core Allwinner A31s, a high-performance SoC for phablets
With numerous flavours of supported operating systems, high screen resolutions, and rich connectivity options, the quad-core Allwinner A31s platform has been designed and optimized for enjoying a wide range of content, from streaming video and reading eBooks to console-quality gaming and social media interaction.
At its core, the Allwinner A31s is a high performance, low power platform offering multimedia, connectivity, and cost-reducing BOM integration, with a wide range of connectivity options such as EDGE, 3G, LTE, WiFi, Bluetooth, FM, GPS, AGPS, and NFC.
But above this, Allwinner has chosen Imagination’s industry-leading PowerVR graphics for their A31s SoC and it is this technology that is really helping Allwinner to establish its leadership position in this dynamic market. Thanks to extended graphics and compute API support and an efficient GPU architecture, the PowerVR SGX544MP2 inside the Allwinner A31s offers a complete multimedia and gaming experience.
What is a ‘phablet’?
A few years ago, defining a ‘tablet’ was a simple process: consumers wanted a portable but powerful multimedia device, with specific form factors, high resolution screen and certain build characteristics. A tablet usually lacked a keyboard, had a unibody design, was lighter than a notebook and provided better battery life compared to a traditional laptop. Studies were showing 77% of tablets had a 9” or larger display, but ultimately the size of the tablet started to be defined by the purpose of buying it.
Meanwhile, there was a new category of devices growing both in popularity and attention; they were neither smartphones nor tablets, but lay somewhere in between. As a compromise between the portability of smartphone and the larger screen size of a tablet, these hybrid devices became known as phablets.
A ‘phablet’ can be defined as a computing device that has a screen size between 5 and 7 inches, with the form factor and features of a tablet but that can also function as a phone, with voice and mobile data connectivity. The smaller size makes it easier for users to carry phablets around just like smartphones, while a typically larger battery provides a similar multimedia or web browsing experience to a regular tablet.
Get the most out of your battery and avoid heat issues with PowerVR GPUs
Power consumption is critical for mobile devices, especially for smartphones, smaller tablets and phablets. These devices cannot afford to fit a large battery as their bigger counterparts do, but must still provide high performance computing within this limited power envelope.
As graphics processor units (GPUs) increasingly become the driving force behind SoC processing, scaling the number of graphics IP cores becomes a careful balancing act between performance, power and area requirements.
By choosing a PowerVR SGX544MP2 from Imagination for its A31 and A31s platforms, Allwinner have seen more than 50% increases in graphics and compute performance compared to competing solutions with twice as many cores, running at double the frequency, while keeping power consumption significantly lower. This is an extremely important point for computing platforms.
Because competing solutions are inherently inefficient (essentially brute force designs), they must rely on overclocking to extreme frequencies to provide somewhat decent performance. This leads to dangerous levels of heat (think 72 to 100+ degrees Celsius) which is unacceptable in practical usage. Device temperature should not be massively above body temperature… and definitely not near skin burning temperature.
What about competitive benchmarks?
We’ve seen competitors go to extreme lengths to compete with PowerVR GPUs and claim superior performance by ramping up clock speeds just to run benchmarks. Not only does this give a highly distorted view of what real users will experience, it also gives an unrealistic impression of what the chip is actually capable of.
The trick here is simple: make sure the benchmark runs for the time a typical user will be using the tablet – e.g. 10 or 15 minutes – and see what happens to the temperature of the product and the speed of the benchmark. We’ve seen cases where the temperature rises so high that the tablet quickly becomes impossible to hold, while the thermal management on the chip cuts in (if it was not earlier disabled to mislead even more), plummeting performance to a fraction of their claimed benchmark speeds.
End users don’t appreciate a hot tablet or wildly fluctuating performance as thermal management cuts in or out. This process of constantly having to adjust a GPU’s working frequency is known as thermal panic linked throttling and it leads to significant fluctuations in the overall experience and chipset performance as the system toggles for example from 600MHz to 300Mhz or even lower to cool the silicon down.
PowerVR is the lowest power GPU in its class, ensuring users get the best possible experience for hours of enjoyment. By using PowerVR GPUs, Imagination’s silicon partners like Allwinner do not run into this problem. Low power technologies unique to the PowerVR architecture such as TBDR (tile-based deferred rendering), PVRTC and PVRTC2 texture compression support, and a separate hardware 2D core all contribute to sustained performance and decreased power consumption.
This in turn improves system-wide, real world performance and reduces memory bandwidth requirements.
PowerVR Series5XT is the graphics engine of choice for high-resolution screens
PowerVR GPUs have been and are at the forefront of high resolution displays, driving complex user interfaces and ultra-realistic games on Retina resolutions (and beyond) for smartphones, tablets, smart TVs and other consumer devices. This trend is likely to continue this year, as we expect newer PowerVR-based smartphones, phablets and tablets to launch with high resolution screens.
When it comes to devices with high-resolution screens, PowerVR Series5XT-based designs like the Allwinner A31s and A31 are leading the market. For example, the Allwinner A31s can drive resolutions up to 1280×800 pixels, decode video up to 2160p, and encode video up to 1080p – perfect for mainstream, high volume phablets that need the added graphics and compute power to compete against more expensive solutions in the market. Allwinner A31s significantly reduces BOM costs by integrating functions like audio, ISP (image signal processor), and voice communication interfaces directly onto the chip.
Near OpenGL ES 3.0 functionality and GPU compute on the same PowerVR GPU
PowerVR Series5XT GPUs are fully-featured, future proof designs, offering much more than a standard API implementation. For example, the PowerVR SGX544MP2 inside the Allwinner A31s and A31 SoCs supports a wide range of graphics APIs, including OpenGL ES 2.0, desktop OpenGL 2.1 (including X11 integration with DRI2, EXA and DRM support), and DirectX 9_3.
More importantly, PowerVR Series5XT GPUs deliver the largest number of OpenGL ES 2.0 extensions available in the industry, bringing OpenGL ES 3.0 functionality on today’s platforms. This gives developers a path for migration between the two versions of the Khronos standard, allowing them to design console quality titles optimized for mobile platforms.
As opposed to other GPU vendors who either are not capable to support (or completely lack the feature set) for OpenCL or Renderscript/Fiterscript APIs, Imagination delivers GPU compute across all PowerVR cores, including Series5, Series5XT and Series6. Our SGX platforms offer up to IEEE 32-bit floating point accuracy for GPU compute and advanced context switching and multi concurrent API support.
This enables PowerVR-based platforms like Allwinner A31s and A31 to offer uncompromised compute and graphics performance across a range of devices.
PowerVR graphics help Imagination’s partners like Allwinner achieve success
We are pleased to partner with companies like Allwinner Technology, a leading China-based fabless design company dedicated to smart application processor SoCs and smart analog ICs. The combination of Allwinner’s design and integration expertise together with Imagination’s industry-leading graphics technology is creating compelling product lines including multi-core application processors for smart devices and smart power management ICs used by brands worldwide.
With its focus on cutting edge UHD video processing, high performance multi-core CPU and GPU integration, and ultra low power consumption, Allwinner Technology provides mainstream solutions for the global tablet, internet TV, smart home device, automotive in-dash system, smart power management, and mobile connected device markets.
For more news and announcements from our ecosystem and silicon partners, follow Allwinner (@AllwinnerTech) and Imagination (@ImaginationTech and @PowerVRInsider) on Twitter and keep coming back to our blog.