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Floating point or fixed-point for Android NDK OpenGL apps?

Posted by: admin June 15, 2020 Leave a comment


I’m trying to decide on whether to primarily use floats or ints for all 3D-related elements in my app (which is C++ for the most part). I understand that most ARM-based devices have no hardware floating point support, so I figure that any heavy lifting with floats would be noticeably slower.

However, I’m planning to prep all data for the most part (i.e. have vertex buffers where applicable and transform using matrices that don’t change a lot), so I’m just stuffing data down OpenGL’s throat. Can I assume that this goes more or less straight to the GPU and will as such be reasonably fast? (Btw, the minimum requirement is OpenGL ES 2.0, so that presumably excludes older 1.x-based phones.)

Also – how is the penalty when I mix and match ints and floats? Assuming that all my geometry is just pre-built float buffers, but I use ints for matrices since those do require expensive operations like matrix multiplications, how much wrath will I incur here?

By the way, I know that I should keep my expectations low (sounds like even asking for floats on the CPU is asking for too much), but is there anything remotely like 128-bit VMX registers?

(And I’m secretly hoping that fadden is reading this question and has an awesome answer.)

How to&Answers:

Older Android devices like the G1 and MyTouch have ARMv6 CPUs without floating point support. Most newer devices, like the Droid, Nexus One, and Incredible, use ARMv7-A CPUs that do have FP hardware. If your game is really 3D-intensive, it might demand more from the 3D implementation than the older devices can provide anyway, so you need to decide what level of hardware you want to support.

If you code exclusively in Java, your app will take advantage of the FP hardware when available. If you write native code with the NDK, and select the armv5te architecture, you won’t get hardware FP at all. If you select the armv7-a architecture, you will, but your app won’t be available on pre-ARMv7-A devices.

OpenGL from Java should be sitting on top of “direct” byte buffers now, which are currently slow to access from Java but very fast from the native side. (I don’t know much about the GL implementation though, so I can’t offer much more than that.)

Some devices additionally support the NEON “Advanced SIMD” extension, which provides some fancy features beyond what the basic VFP support has. However, you must test for this at runtime if you want to use it (looks like there’s sample code for this now — see the NDK page for NDK r4b).

An earlier answer has some info about the gcc flags used by the NDK for “hard” fp.

Ultimately, the answer to “fixed or float” comes down to what class of devices you want your app to run on. It’s certainly easier to code for armv7-a, but you cut yourself off from a piece of the market.


In my opinion you should stick with fixed-point as much as possible.

Not only old phones miss floating point support, but also new ones such as the HTC Wildfire.

Also, if you choose to require ARMv7, please note that for example the Motorola Milestone (Droid for Europe) does feature an ARMv7 CPU, but because of the way Android 2.1 has been built for this device, the device will not use your armeabi-v7a libs (and might hide your app from the Market).

I personally worked around this by detecting ARMv7 support using the new cpufeatures library provided with NDK r4b, to load some armeabi-v7a lib on demand with dlopen().