James Bruce, the U.S. mobile segment manager at ARM Holdings (ARMH), announced this week another important step in ARM's plans to try to further dethrone the veteran x86 and become the world's most used computer architecture.
I. Superpower Smartphones Almost Here
Starting late next year or in early 2013, Mr. Bruce announced this week, smartphones, tablets, and possibly laptops using ARM's new Cortex A15 core will go on sale. Initially the chips will be dual-core designs, but the architecture supports up to 16 cores. The cores can be clocked at up to 2.5GHz.
Expect top ARM chipmakers NVIDIA Corp (NVDA), Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. (005390) (and its partner Intrinsity, Inc.), Texas Instruments Inc. (TXN), and Qualcomm Inc. (QCOM) to all be readying Cortex A15 designs to ship next year. NVIDIA and Texas Instruments recently became the first Cortex A15 licensees, indicating their design efforts have already started.
All ARM cores of a specific architecture share a certain amount of commonality, but the actual design and performance can vary significantly between licensees.
Current cutting-edge smart phones and tablets like the Motorola Xoom, the new Galaxy Tab 8.9/10.1-inch models, and the LG G-Slate use Cortex A9 processors. Cortex A9 can only support up to four cores and clock speeds of up to 2 GHz, maximum.
But aside from bumping the core count and the speed, Cortex A15 delivers numerous architectural improvements that should bump power performance and increase the efficiency of parallel processing on mobile devices.
The Cortex A15 design was previously announced in September, but this was the first time concrete availability information has aired.
II. What's Next?
Along side the architectural efforts of ARM Holdings and its corporate partners will be a series of die shrinks. Intel Corp. (INTC) recently stated it was confident it would beat ARM in power consumption by 2013, by moving to the 22 nm transistor node.
But ARM Holding's Mr. Bruce says that Qualcomm is already moving to a 28-nm process and will soon be joined by the other licensees. Intel currently is at the 45 nm node, for its latest Atom (Lincroft) mobile designs.
By 2013 ARM will likely be on the 22 nm node as well.
Mr. Bruce says that his company won't target the server market, which it calls a "legacy" market, till 2014. Many are looking forward to ARM servers, as they would offer a very power efficient, presumably affordable RISC alternative to x86 designs. And with Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) announcing that it would support ARM with Windows 8, the possibility that future version of Windows Server will support ARM seems strong.
In the meantime Mr. Bruce says that ARM Holdings and its partners will continue to focus on mobile devices like smart phones and tablets. He says he is excited about new "convertible" designs like the Motorola Atrix 4G, which transform a smartphone into an impromptu Android netbook.
He also says that future ARM-powered devices will be capable of streaming video over Bluetooth to your television. He states, "The interesting thing in the smartphone space is the small screen coming to the big screen."