Nvidia lays the muse for future ARM-based gaming PCs

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At GDC 2021, Nvidia introduced the very first demo of RTX functions running on an ARM-based system. ARM is best known for developing the chips in many smartphones and tablets, far removed from high-performance gaming PCs. However, Nvidia’s demo shows that ARM could be the heart of future gaming desktops, making software development kits (SDKs) that support RTX functions on ARM and Linux available today.

The demo (above) shows the demo from Wolfenstein: Youngblood and The Bistro running on an ARM-based system with ray tracing and Deep Learning Super Sampling (DLSS) enabled. The test machine was equipped with an RTX 3060 and MediaTek Kompanio 1200, an eight-core CPU with four large ARM Cortex-A78 cores and four small ARM Cortex-A55 cores.

This hybrid design (known as big.LITTLE) is what makes ARM processors tick. The large cores do intensive tasks, while the small cores do simpler tasks in the background. Intel’s upcoming Alder Lake processors will use a similar design that optimizes performance by delegating work as required.

“MediaTek and NVIDIA are laying the groundwork for a new category of ARM-based high-performance PCs,” said PC Tseng, general manager of MediaTek’s Intelligent Multimedia Business Unit. That foundation starts with a bundle of SDKs developers can now use on ARM and Linux:

  • Deep Learning Super Sampling (DLSS): Artificial Intelligence (AI) upscaling to improve game performance.
  • RTX Direct Illumination (RTXDI): Raytraced lighting from individual sources.
  • RTX Global Illumination (RTXGI): Raytrace lighting for an entire scene.
  • NVIDIA Optix AI-Acceleration Denoiser (NRD): AI-controlled image rendering.
  • RTX Memory Utility (RTXMU): An optimizer that helps applications use graphics memory.

Only three of the tools are currently available to developers – RTXDI, NRD, and RTXMU. The two most exciting SDKs, DLSS and RTXGI, are coming “soon”. This is the first time x86-based Windows systems are at serious threat to gaming. In the future, it is possible that ARM devices like Chromebooks and tablets will be accelerated by Nvidia graphics to offer a full desktop gaming experience.

In the demos, the RTX 3060 draws most of the weight when rendering. The demos speak not so much for the performance of ARM processors, but for the possibility of running demanding games on such a platform.

Nvidia announced its partnership with MediaTek in April and said its goal was to “create a reference system and SDK for Chrome OS and Linux PCs”. The SDKs released today show that the partnership has paid off.

The advances are due in part to Nvidia’s ongoing acquisition of ARM. The company has allocated $ 40 billion to acquire one of the world’s greatest chip designers, despite encountering several hurdles during the acquisition process. The deal is at the behest of US, European, and Chinese regulators, who are sure to scrutinize such a big deal. It was originally supposed to close in March 2022, but companies could decide to extend the deadline to September 2022.

Regardless, it looks like a new class of gaming PC is on the horizon. And if ARM designs take center stage, that’s great news for PC gamers.

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