Freescale Plans for Faster ARM Core, 16nm FinFET for Network Chips

At its user conference, the vendor also rolls out two new ARM-based IorIQ SoCs for NFV and the intelligent network edge.

Freescale's faster ARM core

Freescale Semiconductor officials this week are beginning to layout the future of the company's ARM-based communications processors.

At the company's Freescale Technology Forum 2015 in Austin, Texas, officials announced its plans to use ARM's low-power Cortex-A72 system-on-a-chip (SoC) architecture in upcoming versions of its QorIQ LS2 networking processors due by the end of the year. The Cortex-A72—the latest processing core in the 64-bit ARMv8-A portfolio—was introduced earlier this year initially for smartphones and other mobile consumer devices.

However, Freescale officials said their company was the first to announce it for communications processors, adding that the Cortex-A72 will offer both improved performance and lower overall power consumption, both of which are increasingly important as the numbers of mobile devices and the Internet of things (IoT) systems continue to grow. The vendor will use the combination of the ARM 64-bit architecture and its own datapath acceleration technology to drive performance, according to officials.

"Our tight relationship with ARM is proving out to be very beneficial," Matt Short, senior marketing manager at Freescale, told eWEEK.

At the same time, Freescale officials said June 23 that the company is bringing 16-nanometer FinFET processing technology to its QorIQ processors, which will offer twice the performance of its current 28nm products within the same power envelope. Initial sampling of the 16nm FinFET SoCs is scheduled for mid-2016, the company said.

"The world's networks are moving and changing faster than ever before, driven by the convergence of extreme virtualization, software-centric network topologies, continued expansion of the IoT, and growing demand for increased, flexible intelligence at the network's edge," Tom Deitrich, senior vice president and general manager of Freescale's Digital Networking group, said in a statement. "This new paradigm favors silicon providers like Freescale with advanced process technology, deep bonds with the world’s leading equipment OEMs, and the breadth of critical IP like software, advanced acceleration engines and optimized compute densities."

The FinFET technology offers a three-dimensional transistor architecture that essentially enables vendors to get more transistors into the same footprint. Freescale engineers are evaluating and testing on the 16nm FinFET architecture and is applying what they are learning to implementation of processor cores, hardware accelerators and interconnect fabric, officials said, adding that the company will deliver an array of 16nm building blocks that customers and partners can work with.

While the company is working toward the Cortex-A72 and 16nm FinFET, it still is improving on the QorIQ portfolio. At the show, Freescale officials unveiled the eight-core QorIQ LS1088A and quad-core LS1048A communications processors, both based on ARM's Cortex-A53 cores and both armed with the second generation of datapath acceleration architecture (DPAA2). The low-power and flexible SoCs are aimed at the increasingly virtualized networks and systems aimed at the burgeoning IoT.

Intelligence is being driven to the network edge as virtualization becomes more commonplace and data resides closer to the connected endpoints. The combination of the low-power, energy-efficient LS1088A and 1048A processors with the DPAA2 technology will enable OEMs and service providers to bring specialized equipment closer to the network edge.

"The edge is only going to get more intelligent," Short said.

The Cortex-A53 cores run up to 1.5GHz, and the SoCs integrate DDR4 memory controllers and up to two 10 Gigabit Ethernet and eight Gigabit Ethernet interfaces with Layer 2 switch capabilities. The chips, with a power profile of 8 to 10 watts, are designed for intelligent edge equipment, network-functions virtualization (NFV) environments, virtual customer-premises equipment (vCPE), industrial control systems and intelligent NIC applications, according to officials.

The DPAA2 technology brings high performance and easy use through accelerator sharing and a simple and secure networking interface. Among the acceleration engines is an advanced I/O processor for offloading applications running on the CPU, and the technology also powers Freescale's network security engines, they said.

Freescale also is planning a software toolkit to go along with the SoCs. The LS1088A and 1048A will be available in the first quarter 2016.