New ARM A72 Mobile Processor Tightens Pressure On Intel

Chip designer ARM Holdings unveiled a new core processor Tuesday that boasts three times the performance of its current designs for smartphones, escalating pressure on Intel, which has been struggling to compete in the mobile chip space.

The Cortex-A72 processor, which ARM said will deliver a 75 percent energy consumption reduction from current devices, will "enable a new standard for premium experiences on 2016 mobile devices."

Todd Swank, senior director of product marketing at Equus Computer Systems, a Minnetonka, Minn.-based system builder, stressed that the unveiled processor is a jab to Intel.

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"Because ARM is a licenser, Intel is facing pressure not just from that one company but also from its various licensees, like Qualcomm," he said. "This puts Intel up against all these different players in an already competitive space. And it's no longer just about who has the highest-performing CPU, but now energy efficiency and price point are coming into play as well."

A72's main booster is energy efficiency, but ARM stated the processor also would be particularly powerful for the mobile-gaming and video-streaming market, as it also includes graphic upgrades that generate an improved visual experience for users at up to 4K 120fps resolution.

The company currently provides its Cortex-A15 design, used in a variety of phones and tablets.

"Our new premium mobile experience IP suite with the Cortex-A72 processor delivers a decisive step forward from the compelling user experiences provided by this year's A57 based devices," said Pete Hutton, executive vice president of Products Groups for ARM, in a statement. "In 2016 the ARM ecosystem will deliver even slimmer, lighter, more immersive mobile devices that serve as your primary and only compute platform."

Meanwhile, Mountain View, Calif.-based Intel has struggled to make gains against ARM on the smartphone front despite its lock-tight grip on the x86 PC and server processor markets.

Intel's smartphone chip space offers the Atom Z2580, which is used in only a limited number of smartphones made by firms such as Asus and Lenovo in overseas markets, and the SoFIA smartphone chip, which began shipping late last year with integrated 3G radio technology.

Early in 2015, Intel said, it will ship with a LTE version. Intel said it has about a half dozen phone manufacturers set to adopt its SoFIA chips.

Looking beyond SoFIA, Intel said it is developing new 22-nanometer chip technology, named Moorefield and Merrifield. Longer-range, Intel said it is developing a new Atom processor, code-named Broxton, that will be aimed at high-end smartphones in the 2016 time frame.

On the tablet front, Intel has released a number of mobile chips, including its mobile Atom Z3580, which received much fanfare at CES. It was featured in a number of high-profile tablets including Dell's Venue 8 tablet.

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Despite the hypercompetitive space, Swank stressed that Intel still holds a strong place in the market.

"I'm not counting Intel out. It has a tremendous amount of resources and capacity, and I'm a long-term believer of Intel's place in the market," he stressed. "Its semiconductors are huge, and just by scale they have a lot of advantage there. I think Intel's best features are that they build high-quality CPUs and have the best manufacturing, so they have a lot of flexibility to be competitive. And the competition between these companies drives better options for consumers and users of this technology."

Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst for Moor Insights and Strategy, stressed that it would be difficult to make any sort of comparison between Intel's and ARM's mobile chip unit because the market is bound to make widespread changes by 2016.

"It is challenging to make any direct comparison with Intel," he said. "We don't know what Intel will be bringing in the future, and even looking at ARM's release of A72, there's a lot of information still up in the air, such as how big the processor is and what the frequency is."

Intel did not immediately respond to CRN's request for comment.

According to ARM, more than 10 partners have already licensed the A72 processor, including HiSilicon, Rockchip and MediaTek. The processor also will deliver energy-efficient 64-bit processing and will provide backward compatibility to existing 32-bit software.

Tom Spring contributed to this story.