The prospect of a Chromebook running your hot video games isn’t so much a fantasy or a need for streaming, as at the Game Developers Conference (GDC), NVIDIA showed off their progress of introducing their line of graphics cards to the Arm ecosystem and platform.
Of course, this is still a ways off and I wouldn’t expect anything to be made official until NVIDIA complete their 40 billion dollar acquisition of Arm, which is currently being held in corporate limbo as they go under scrutiny by the UK regulation watchdogs for anti-competitive reasons, as well as national security.
Who and what is Arm?
To boil it down to a burnt syrup, Arm is the designer of processors for many mobiles and smaller tech devices across a broad spectrum of products. Chromebooks, iPhones, and Android devices all use the ARM architecture.
Based in Cambridge and China, Arm is being acquired by graphics card manufacturer NVIDIA because that just seems to be the thing these days. Consolidation of these mega-corporations has been happening for the last few years, but this acquisition will be one of the largest for the industry so far.
Whenever you see a Qualcomm Snapdragon processor being talked about, it’s built on ARM, which Arm licenses out to these manufacturers as ‘partners’, allowing them to bring them to life in the ways that they see fit.
As of right now, a majority of Chromebooks run off ARM and major companies like Microsoft have begun to work towards bringing their operating systems to it, with Apple famously ditching Intel’s processors for their own ARM-based M1 silicon chips for all Mac devices from 2020 onwards.
While more complex, ARM actually needs to do a lot less than traditional CPUs to put it simply. This means that they’re more energy-efficient, allowing them to perform at similar levels as the Intels and AMDs, without eating as much power, which NVIDIA says will lead to a ‘new class of PCs’.
So what's it doing?
- Deep Learning Super Sampling (DLSS), which uses AI to boost frame rates and generate beautiful, sharp images for games
- RTX Direct Illumination (RTXDI), which lets developers add dynamic lighting to their gaming environments
- RTX Global Illumination (RTXGI), which helps recreate the way light bounces around in real-world environments
- NVIDIA Real-Time Denoisers (NRD), a denoising library that’s designed to work with low ray per pixel signals
- RTX Memory Utility (RTXMU), which optimizes the way applications use graphics memory
While in the throes of development, NVIDIA has now shown an ARM CPU (MediaTek Kompanio 1200) running Wolfenstein: Youngblood with an RTX 3060 GPU.
For reference, the MediaTek Kompanio 1200 processor is for the next generation of Chromebooks, showing that NVIDIA is obviously counting on this merger going through.
Shown off in the demo video is the game running with NVIDIA DLSS, the company’s deep learning super sampling algorithm, which will take a lower resolution image and blow it up to a high-quality version via AI, giving new life to older GPUs as they begin to age.
Due to DLSS’s optimizations for the game being fully utilized in the demo, Wolfenstein is also paired with the RTX’s primary purpose, Ray Tracing, which accurately depicts light sources as they would be in the real world, without the need for ‘baking’ or creating specifics in the code to generate it.
It’ll also allow for real-time reflections with ease in comparison to how it used to have to get done (and why you’d rarely see mirrors in games from the last couple generations of games).
A more detailed list from NVIDIA’s own blog:
What does this mean for you?
This massive advancement not only means that NVIDIA is beginning to take Linux-based and alternate platforms more seriously but also allows for a whole swath of PCs at cheaper price points or lower power to be able to begin running high-end games and software.
In their blog, Epic’s president of engineering mentioned that this is a great opportunity for “games and industries such as automotive”, thinking bigger than just the more traditional video game use.
With NVIDIA onboard and the now Microsoft-owned Bethesda clearly interested in developing for the platform with this unreleased Youngblood demo – especially as Microsoft is looking to make their own chips based on ARM – this could have massive implications for the next few years of devices.
The development kits are now available for those interested, but it’s a very intriguing development.
This is especially true as the popular online video of Linus Torvald, the creator of the Linux kernel, has publically decried NVIDIA’s snubbing of Linux and the major companies all chasing after an ARM future, hoping to move away from the ever flagging Intel’s lack of progress for mobile devices.