Samsung developing new GPU

Hired new GPU VP to take in-house GPU across finish line.

The demand for talent and the talent’s demand for interesting challenges will never let up, especially in Silicon Valley. One such example is Dr. Chien-Ping Lu, or CP as he’s known among his friends. CP was the developer of Nvidia’s nForce IGP which was a small but powerful GPU in a northbridge chip designed to work with AMD and Intel processors before they put the GPU inside the CPU. CP helped Nvidia to fight against Intel in the IGP war, which ended with a sweet $3B deal for Nvidia. Afterward, CP moved to MediaTek to lead their new in-house GPU design group. He built up a team of designers and engineers in the US and Taiwan and started preparing MediaTek to wean themselves from Arm and Imagination Technologies.

Dr. Chien-Ping Lu aka CP

Within 4 years, he successfully delivered a product that met all performance, power, and cost requirements with no production issue, a miraculous feast for a brand-new GPU IP. MediaTek, for reasons known only to them, decided to cancel the project, a move that they have been openly regretting afterward. It laid off most of the US-based GPU team, and reassigned the Taiwan team. The rumor mill went crazy (saying the whole team had been fired, when it hadn’t), Arm and Imagination of course were delighted, and the US engineers had no problem finding new employment.

About the same time when CP started his GPU program, the semiconductor research group in Suwon Korea was exploring and experimenting with new low-power processor architectures and had developed a clever way to batch instructions for a SIMD architecture. It was VLIW like but without all the complexities of VLIW and would result in a bundle of patents. At the same time the CPU development team, which had an architectural license from Arm, had a breakthrough in compute density and FLOPS. Samsung’s stars were aligned, and they decided to productize these, and a couple of other developments. They would call this project SGPU—Samsung’s GPU. They hired CP late last year for his experience and to take a brand-new GPU IP across the finish line.

Samsung Austin and San Jose are now filling out the engineering teams in hardware, software, test, verification, and implementation. The simulations have indicated an even better performance than predicted, and the batch instruction processing holds the promise of significantly reducing the latency in the motion-to-photon path, and bringing low-power (consumption) VR, with fast recovery very high-resolution dynamic display capability. Samsung is justifiably very closed mouth about this, but various research papers, and job openings reveal to the trained eye what’s going on. And although Samsung would only say they don’t discuss unreleased products, they also didn’t say they weren’t doing it.

It’s our guess we could see something official no later than this time next year. What remains to be seen is how far Samsung will take it. If they have the breakthrough we think they do, will they keep it in house for competitive advantage, license it to one of their partners, or maybe even go bigger and make it multi-platform from mobile to TV, game consoles, and PCs? And the world can’t seem to get enough GPUs for all the AI ambitions being explored. Samsung already has a big AI team, they must certainly be eyeing this development.

When you take powerhouse company like Samsung, with biggest and best fabs, the biggest and fastest memory devices, a consumer product group that sells smartphones that cause Apple too many sleepless nights, and add a breakthrough GPU design, the first new GPU design in over a decade, the confluence of capabilities is nothing short of breath taking. But Samsung has had breakthroughs before only to let them slip away, or for some internal reason abandon them. No doubt AMD, Intel, Nvidia, and Qualcomm are hoping Samsung will do exactly that, but so far it doesn’t look that way, and given the number of open job positions, Samsung is definitely gearing up for a big push.