Arm Announces Mobile GPU with Ray Tracing

Processor designer Arm announced this week its upcoming Immortalis mobile GPU, its first that supports hardware-based ray tracing. They are expected to start shipping late this year and be in gamers’ hands in 2023.  While there are significant caveats, Arm’s position as a market leader in smartphone and tablet GPUs does signal that ray tracing is likely to become the next big buzzword in mobile gaming.
Armed and Dangerous 
The Immortalis will be the leader of a trio of premium GPUs. Importantly, Arm has worked closely with Unity and Epic in developing these GPUs and supporting technology like Adaptive Performance, which tailors game performance based on metrics such as the device’s temperature.

  • Immortalis-G715: Flagship GPU with support for hardware-based ray tracing, variable rate shading (VSR), 10 or more cores
  • Mali-G715: VSR and 7 to 9 cores
  • Mali-G615: VSR and 6 or fewer cores

What Comes After?
Arm also laid out a roadmap for future mobile GPU development, with “Titan” arriving in (presumably late) 2023 and “Krake” in 2024. The manufacturer, however, clearly has plans beyond the traditional smartphone/tablet gaming space.

  • Virtual Reality/Augmented Reality: Arm hosted a chat with legendary game designer John Romero (Wolfenstein, Quake, & Doom, to name a few) on the VR chat app Rec Room, where they discussed graphics in gaming. One need not be Sherlock Holmes to see Arm has its eye on powering VR/AR experiences.
  • Traditional PCs: Arm has next-to-no footprint in a space dominated by Intel and AMD. Arm general manager Paul Williamson even acknowledged that the company has not kept up on Windows devices. Its upcoming processors are scalable, and one would be remiss to not mention that Arm had a hand in designing Apple’s well-received M1 processors.

Substance or Hype?
Make no mistake, Arm is a market leader, and its introduction of hardware-based raytracing will push others in the industry to follow. This development, however, is not likely to take the smartphone and tablet space by storm the same way that Nvidia’s RTX 20 series video cards did for PC gaming in 2018. 

  • Dubious Practicality: Just because a GPU is capable of ray tracing does not mean a gamer should enable that feature and turn their phone into an overpriced handwarmer.
  • Developer Buy-in: No matter how easy Arm makes it, adding ray tracing to a game is an added expense and effort in an industry not entirely unfairly known for favoring quantity over quality. Only time will tell how many developers invest in the feature.
  • Values Clash: The main selling point of mobile gaming is its lower barriers to entry, be it actual cost or portability. Ray tracing on your smartphone will certainly cost a premium and drain batteries even quicker. How many customers will spend $1,000 for a Immortalis-powered phone instead of just buying a PC or laptop?
  • (Quality) Control Issues: Arm is unusual in that their business model is based on designing processors and then licensing them out, as opposed to manufacturing them. And the results have not always panned out. Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8 Gen 1, which incorporates Arm CPU cores, looked great on paper but flopped after lackluster production quality.