ARM Unveils Chip Designed Aimed at Smartphones, Netbooks

At its annual TechCon3 show, ARM is showing off its newest processor design that is targeted at smaller, Internet-connected devices such as smartphones, netbooks and embedded systems. The unveiling of the Cortex-A5 chip comes at a time when Intel is making an aggressive push into the mobile space with its Atom platform. ARM expects devices powered by the Cortex-A5 will begin appearing in 2011.

ARM, whose dominance as a designer of chips used in smartphones and other small devices is being challenged by Intel, is rolling out a new small, energy-efficient design.

The new Cortex-A5 MPCore processor will be cheaper, faster and more energy efficient than its predecessors, all key attributes as ARM officials look to deal with rising competition from Intel and its Atom chip family.

ARM unveiled the new design Oct. 21 at its ARM TechCon3 event in Santa Clara, Calif.

ARM can be licensed immediately and will be delivered to its hundreds of manufacturing partners, such as Samsung Electronics, later this year. The company expects devices with the Cortex-A5 processor to become available in 2011, according to Travis Lanier, product development manager for the Cortex-A5.

The new processor comes as Intel looks to move deeper into the mobile device space with its Atom processor. At their Intel Developer Forum in September, company officials said Intel is working on a 32-nanometer version of Atom, which will offer better leakage control than the current version and will rival what ARM can offer now. Intel also created a developer program aimed at expanding the market reach of the Atom platform.

Lanier noted that the Cortex-A5 is a much smaller and more powerful offering than Atom, and said that Intel will have to reach the 15-nm manufacturing process for Atom before the chip can offer the same cost efficiency as the Corex-A5.

"For the mass market, they're a long way off," he said in an interview.

ARM's new chip comes with one to four processors, at speeds of up to 1GHz. The cores in the Cortex-A5 will be able to run up to three times faster than those in the ARM 9, the eight-year-old product which is the company's current chip for the low-end market.

The Cortex-A5 will refresh the ARM 9, which gave users basic Internet connectivity, Lanier said. More than 5 billion ARM 9 units have been shipped, he said.

The Cortex-A5 will include ARM's TrustZone security technology and a Neon multimedia processing engine, which was first introduced with the Cortex-A8 processor design. The Neon technology is designed to offer enhanced acceleration for multimedia applications.

The Cortex-A5 also is compatible with the Cortex-A8 and A9 chips, which means immediate support from developers using Android, Adobe Flash, Java Platform Standard Edition, JavaFX, Linux, Microsoft Windows Embedded, Symbian and Ubuntu.

The chip is designed to work with a wide range of Internet-enabled devices, from smartphones and netbooks to embedded consumer and industrial systems.

"There's a very massive opportunity here," Lanier said.

Part of that opportunity comes in emerging markets, he said, where the issue is not just cost, but battery life, given that many places in the world have limited access to power supplies.

"These [new devices used in these areas] will have to be very power efficient," Lanier said.

The Cortex-A5 uses about a third of the power of the ARM 11 chip, which plays in the midrange market, which translates into the ability to double the battery life, Lanier said. It also costs about 80 percent less to manufacture than the ARM 9, he said.

The Cortex-A5 has two designs, one for a general-purpose chip at a frequency of 1GHz and a power envelope of 80 milliwatts. The second is a low-power chip that runs at 500MHz.