ARM: Cortex A-15 Design To Double Mobile Device Performance

A high-level executive at British design firm ARM on Tuesday said ARM’s upcoming Cortex A-15 low-power processor core design, which is due to come to market in smartphones and other mobile devices in 2012, will double the performance of ARM’s current Cortex A-9 design.

In an interview with TG Daily, James Bruce, Mobile Marketing executive at ARM, said scalable, multi-core processors based on ARM’s A-15 chip design will change the IT industry by bringing its high-performance, low-power to new markets and device categories."The primary message and benefit of the A-15 is that it delivers new levels of computing capabilities, while still maintaining low-power consumption," Bruce said.

Bruce said ARM’s Cortex A-15 will be roughly twice as powerful as its A9 design, and subsequent generations of ARM’s Cortex architecture will feature approximately 2X performance improvements.

Although the architecture will first be featured in dual-core processors, Bruce said, Cortex A-15-based processors will run inside smartphones, tablets, and eventually even servers and traditional form-factor notebook PCs beginning next year and will support devices that feature up to 16 cores. "The entire industry is now realizing you can't just keep on sucking power, whether from an environmentally green or purely financial perspective,’ he reportedly said. ’And that is why we are working with partners to integrate the A15 into server designs."

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According to Bruce, Nvidia's Project Denver server processor and Microsoft's plans to port Windows 8 to ARM’s architecture, which were unveiled at CES 2011, sent a "powerful message" that RISC-based architectures can scale up to larger form factors and offer a superior value proposition to traditional x86 architecture.

Nevertheless, Bruce reportedly said he does not expect ARM to replace x86 core architectures, but rather play an ’accompanying’ role to the traditional CPU cores in the processor market. ’With our upcoming Cortex-A15 processor, we are definitely moving closer to the day when your smartphone or tablet can act as a primary computing device," Bruce said. "You can simply hook the smartphone or tablet up to an external monitor to watch a movie and presentation, while linking a mouse and keyboard via Bluetooth to work on an Office doc.’

ARM in September said its Cortex A-15 design delivers a 5x performance improvement over current smartphone processors, while running at up to 2.5 GHz of clock speed. Although ARM is targeting larger form-factor devices with its next Cortex design, the company said it is also targeting future scaled-down fabrication processes including 32-nm and 28nm-dies with its Cortex lineup going forward.

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In addition, ARM said vendor partners TI, Samsung, and Ericcson all helped develop the Cortex-A15 core, and TI will be the first Cortrex-A15 licensee, with sample chips scheduled for release next year. ARM’s vendor partners -- including Nvidia, Samsung, TI, and Qualcomm -- pay an average royalty of 10 cents per chip to license the design.

ARM’s partnership with Nvidia in the server and mobile markets in particular present a potential challenge to Intel and Microsoft, and possibly the traditional PC microprocessor industry itself.

In January at CES 2011, ARM President Tudor Brown said the company’s unique business model, which involves licensing its chip architectures to various competing manufacturers, has enabled ARM’s challenge to Intel in the server market, although that remains a supplementary effort to its mobile business, rather than a core strategy.