ARM has been beating the performance drum again, this time telling the Inquirer that a new Mali GPU design due out in 18 months will make its chips the equal of current-gen gaming consoles like the Xbox 360 and the Playstation 3. There can be little doubt that an ARM-based mobile chip will surpass these two consoles in pixel-pushing capacity (measured variously) at some point in the future, but we've heard this kind of talk about Mali before.
Some Googling turns up 2009 and 2010 as years when Mali was supposed to bring Xbox 360-level graphics to mobiles, and we're certain that if we went past the first page of search results we could find more.
But whatever ARM has said in the past, it's not really a stretch to imagine this happening in roughly an 18-month timeframe. For reference, at the 2010 ISSCC, Microsoft showed off the SoC that powers the latest version of the Xbox 360, a combo chip that puts the CPU and GPU of the console on the same 45nm die and clocks in at only 372 million transistors. That's a bit over 100 million transistors more than NVIDIA's 40nm Tegra 2 mobile chip from that same year. So yes, given a process shrink to 28nm or thereabouts, it seems quite possible that ARM will at the very least be able to pack as much hardware as the Xbox 360 does into an application processor.
So much for ARM's Mali claims. The much more interesting question is, what will NVIDIA have out at this point?
The company's upcoming Kal-El part is due out in the second half of this year, and it could well bring something approaching console-level performance to tablets and other portables. And 18 months from now, we may begin to see something out of Project Denver, which could well make for a killer desktop gaming chip (assuming that any games will run on it).