I can distinctly remember the day when Intel Corp. launched the Pentium processor. It was the day the desktop computing changed for me and for a lot of others. It was also the day when Intel started to put a gap between itself and all its wannabe processor rivals. I bring up that day because I feel that we are about to see a similar shift in the world of mobile, thanks to ARM Holdings, a company that develops and licenses chip technologies to others like Texas Instruments, Samsung and Qualcomm.
ARM, today is introducing a new chip architecture called the Cortex-A15 MPCore. This architecture will form the underpinning of the newest (and perhaps the beefiest) members of the Cortex family of mobile chips that power our iPhones, Samsung Galaxys and the iPads. Thanks to this new architecture, companies such as TI and Samsung will make chips that will come in dual and quad core configurations and will run at clock speeds of up to 2.5 GHz. Don’t be surprised that by 2012 our tablets and smart phones on average be about five times as powerful, with no detrimental impact on power consumption.
And while Apple is nowhere to be found in official ARM’s literature, it goes without saying that many of its products are going to get a major boost because of the new generation of Cortex-A15 architecture-based chips. Why – because Apple is a major license of ARM’s technology.
The Power Principle
So why is this new new chip architecture important? The answer is pretty simple. As we have often explained in the past, the computing is going through a transition akin to the shift from fixed line phones to cellular telephones. Computing is becoming portable and pocketable. It is omnipresent and at our finger tips. It is making us rethink all current notions about the Internet. Mobile connectivity is also bringing the power of the cloud to our palms.
Soon we are going to have even faster networks at our disposal, thanks to the rise of next generation wireless broadband technologies such as Long-Term Evolution or LTE. These faster networks will bring data to our devices at much higher speeds, which mean we will need faster chips to process that information. Just as the growth of faster broadband sparked the sales of ever-more-powerful Pentium chips, a similar trend is going to take hold in the wireless world.
This new world needs a new kind of architecture – one that marries power with very little power consumption so as to give long battery life to our portable devices. “Even with a lot of bandwidth, we are still going to need processing power in the devices,” explained ARM’s director of marketing, Nandan Nayampally. Think of this chip as a heavyweight boxer with the stamina of a long distance runner.
Augmented Reality Gets a Boost
Playing games in 3-D, running work and home environments on the same machine, conducting videoconferences along with dozens of other activities are going to be a breeze for devices powered by this new chip technology. But that is not all since it will be able to equally at home inside a new generation of web servers and personal home devices that need beefy yet power efficient processors. The low power requirement eliminates the need for fans and makes these device cool and quiet. Running on these new chips are a slew of operating systems including the fast-growing Android, Ubuntu Linux and Symbian.
One of the mobile technologies that would likely to get a big boost from this new chip –- augmented reality. Sure you have heard of companies like Layar, but the fact is that AR is going to remain a curiosity unless the chips can take all the visual and other information and turn it into something magic instantly. We are not there yet, but a chip built on the Cortex-A15 architecture can help.
The new ARM architecture is likely to cause further heartache for Intel which has been trying to position itself in the mobile world through various efforts including its low-power Atom processors, and more recently via a $1.4 billion acquisition of Infineon’s wireless chip business. The company has made some strides with its new mobile oriented chips, but the folks at ARM aren’t really sweating it for now.
Nayampally pointed out that slightly older Cortex-A8 chips are enough to take on net books and the newer Cortex-A9 chips are leaving Intel in the dust. Intel, he said is trying to focus on lowering power consumption, a problem ARM has licked. For now, he said the Cambridge, UK-based company is pretty comfortable with its Cortex roadmap. And why not –- more than 20 billion ARM-based processors have found way into our lives. And the company is only just getting started.
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