ARM Unveils Cortex-R8 SoCs for 5G Modems, Next-Gen Storage Systems

ARM says the new chip design will offer up to four cores and twice the performance of the current Cortex-R7 processor.


ARM officials want the chip designer to play a significant role in upcoming 5G networks and next-generation storage systems.

The company is introducing the real-time Cortex-R8 chip architecture that officials said will enable chip makers to create systems-on-a-chip (SoCs) that offer lower latency, higher performance and better power efficiency that will be able to meet the demand from future LTE Advanced Pro and 5G modems and mass storage devices.

"These are hard, real-time tasks," Chris Turner, director of advanced technology marketing at ARM, said during a conference call with journalists.

The standard for 5G isn't expected to be approved until about 2020, but tech vendors and carriers are pushing ahead with preparations. According to service providers such as AT&T, 5G wireless systems are expected to deliver speeds that are 10 to 100 times faster than the average 4G LTE connections, with speeds measured in gigabits per second rather than megabits per second.

Improved speeds and lower latency will become increasingly important with the rapid growth of connected devices worldwide. Officials with Cisco Systems are predicting that by 2020, the Internet of things (IoT) will comprise more than 50 billion connected devices worldwide, from connected cars and smart city systems to home appliances, machine-to-machine computing, sensors and industrial systems. Where wireless networks have been primarily used for personal communications, the rise of connected devices is bringing computing into the picture.

Though the standardization of 5G may be years away, tech companies, service providers and end users alike need to begin laying the groundwork for it now.

"People need to be making their bets now … on building out new networks and data centers," Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst with Moor Insights and Strategy, told eWEEK.

The upcoming Mobile World Congress 2016 show in Barcelona, Spain, will feature a broad array of technologies and products aimed at 5G, from high-end systems from the likes of Dell to networking products from Brocade and others to 5G testing roadmaps from carriers like AT&T.

ARM also will be at the show, which runs Feb. 22-25, with its Cortex-R8 SoC design. ARM doesn't make chips, but licenses its SoC designs to other chip makers. Company officials said the processor design can be licensed now, and they expect chips based on the design to begin appearing later this year. Some silicon partners have begun their own design work based on the Cortex-R8.

ARM's Turner said the Cortex-R8 will offer twice the performance of the current 5-year-old Cortex-R7 design, with as many as four cores coupled with low-latency memory that can provide up to 2MB per core. It also includes superscalar out-of-order execution features to more quickly process data as well as an array of other features touching on scalability, reliability, performance and software compatibility.

Turner noted ARM's dominance in the mobile chip space, where the bulk of processors running today's smartphones and tablets are powered by ARM-based SoCs from the likes of Qualcomm and Samsung. The company is expecting to leverage that market strength to be a player in the 5G world, he said. According to company officials, ARM's CPU architecture is found in more than 20 billion cellular devices around the world, and 1.4 billion Cortex-R SoCs are in data storage systems as well as hard drives and solid-state drives.