ARM's Low-Power Cortex-MO+ Chip Aims for 'Internet of Things'

ARM officials say the new chip design will help power new intelligent sensors and smart systems for everything from home appliances to cars.

ARM Holdings, whose chip designs dominate the rapidly expanding smartphone and tablet markets, is unveiling a new high-performance, low-power chip that officially brings it a significant step forward in the creation of the €œInternet of Things.€

ARM on March 13 announced the Cortex-MO+, a processor that brings 32-bit computing into the same space and a smaller power envelope than current 8- and 16-bit chips. ARM officials are targeting the Cortex-MO+€”which they call the world€™s most energy-efficient chip€”for intelligent sensors and smart control systems for a wide range of uses, from home appliances and white goods to medical monitoring, metering, lighting and power.

Such appliances now run on 8- and 16-bit chips. ARM€™s new processor will enable manufacturers to bring higher performance and greater intelligence to such devices without having to crank up the power or take up more space, according to ARM.

€œWith our expertise in low-power technology, we have worked closely with our [p]artners on the definition of the new processor to ensure that it can enable the low-cost devices of today, while also unlocking the potential benefits delivered by the Internet of Things,€ Mike Inglis, executive vice president and general manager of ARM€™s Processor Division, said in a statement.

The Internet of Things refers to a vision of the future where everyday things, devices, homes, cities, cars and other items are infused with intelligence and ubiquitously connected to the Internet. Proponents envision a world that operates more seamlessly, if more efficiently and more in-tune to the wants and needs of people.

Already vendors like IBM and Cisco Systems are working hard to make buildings more energy-efficient and cities more intelligent through the use of sensors and other devices. According to a presentation by Cisco last year, in 2008, the number of things connected to the Internet exceeded the number of connected people worldwide. By 2020, about 50 billion things connected to the Internet, according to the networking giant.

Putting this type of intelligence in things will require small, low-cost and highly power-efficient chips. ARM officials point to the Cortex-MO+ as another step down that path. The 90-nanometer chip consumes 9MHz, about a third of the energy of 8- or 16-bit chips currently on the market while offering greater performance, the company said. With the Cortex-MO+, manufactures will be able to produce chips that can power smart, low-power microcontrollers that will bring more efficient communication, management and maintenance to a variety of wirelessly connected devices, according to ARM.

The new chip is the latest step by ARM to produce chips aimed at appliances, cars and other things. In 2010, the company rolled out its Cortex-M chips. ARM officials said the new chip uses the same C programming model and processing tools as the existing Cortex-MO.

So far, Freescale and NXP Semiconductor both have licensed the Cortex-MO+ design, according to ARM.

ARM is looking to leverage the growing demand for low-power, high-performance chips to greatly expand its reach. Not only are its chip designs found in most smartphones and tablets, but company officials are looking to move up the ladder and into PCs and low-power servers for such environments as Web 2.0 and cloud computing.

A number of manufacturing partners, including Nvidia, Calxeda and Marvell Technology, are looking to leverage the low-power designs to chip away at Intel€™s server dominance. Hewlett-Packard has announced a partnership with Calxeda to create low-power servers using the chip maker€™s ARM-based processors as part of its Project Moonshot initiative.