ARM officials unveil the Cortex-A15 design, which will have features, including virtualization support, that will help it expand beyond smartphones and possibly into servers.
ARM Holdings, whose chip designs already
are found in most of the current smartphones, including Apple's iPhone and
devices based on Google's Android OS, is now looking to expand its reach into
ARM officials Sept. 9
unveiled their next major chip design, the Cortex-A15, which had been code-named
"Eagle." The officials are promising a fivefold improvement in
performance in a power envelope similar to current ARM
processors. Chips using the design will be able to run at up to 2.5GHz and with
two to possibly 16 processing cores.
"It's a pretty big bump in performance," Nandan
Nayampally, director of product marketing for ARM,
said in an interview with eWEEK. "It opens up our market to very new [products]."
ARM is the dominant chip
player in the burgeoning smartphone market. The company creates the chip
design, which it licenses to the likes of Texas Instruments, Samsung and ST
Ericsson. Those companies then use the design to build the processors.
All three companies already have licensed the new Cortex-A15
design, according to ARM.
It's an area that chip giant Intel, which wants to grow beyond
its traditional server and PC businesses, is anxious to get into. Intel
officials have been trying to move their Atom chips into the space, and on Aug.
30 the company bought
wireless chip business for $1.4 billion.
For its part, ARM is now
looking to move into areas that Intel and its rival, Advanced Micro Devices,
now occupy. The company is ramping up the performance in its Cortex A-15
design. Currently the highest-performing ARM
design is the dual-core Cortex-A8, which runs at 1GHz.
And while the single- and dual-core Cortex A-15 will still be
used in smartphones, the higher core count and such features as support for
virtualization and for greater memory capacity-up to 1TB of physical memory,
compared with 40GB currently-could help it move into such devices as tablet
PCs, wireless base stations, notebooks and possibly enterprise devices,
including routers and servers, according to ARM
At the Hot Chips conference last month, ARM
officials talked about how the virtualization support could be a key
pathway into the data center
. They said that several virtualization
technology vendors, such as VMware, are working on hypervisors that will
support ARM's new chip design, and that
companies that make hypervisors for the mobile and embedded spaces also are
creating products to support the Cortex-A15 chip design.
The Cortex-A15-which will still be a 32-bit design-won't have
the muscle to make its way into many mainstream servers, but it could find its
way into smaller systems that run highly parallelized, edge-of-network
applications, according to ARM.
With the rise of highly virtualized scale-out data centers and
the adoption of cloud computing, coupled with businesses' concerns about the
rising costs of power, cooling and space, a growing number of IT vendors-beyond
Intel and AMD-are looking for ways to build
chips and systems to meet demands for high performance and energy efficiency.
is looking to build highly efficient servers for cloud computing and
scale-out Internet workloads using Intel's Atom chip. Tilera already has built
36- and 64-core processors, and is working on future processors with as many as
200 cores or more. Smooth-Stone wants to build ARM-powered
servers, and Lyric
is developing an alternative to x86 chips called the GP5,
which will be based on probability processing.
The virtualization support in the Cortex-A15 also will have
application for smartphones, said ARM's
Nayampally, noting that users could switch between two operating environments,
using one for personal tasks and another for business.
However, it will be awhile before the Cortex-A15 appears in
devices, Nayampally said. ARM still has to
see devices with its latest design, the Cortex-A9, come to market, which should
happen later this year.
For the Cortex-A15, devices using the chip will go to market
later in 2012, he said.
ARM officials have designed
the Cortex-A15 to be manufactured in 32- and 28-nanometer processors, and have
a road map for extending down to 20nm.