A number of different tidbits of information are pointing towards Apple shifting its chip design in-house, including the acquisition of P.A. Semi and the hiring of Mark Papermaster, but ARM clearly wants to give it every reason not to try to go it completely alone. It’s responsible for the Cortex A8 processor powering the much zippier iPhone 3G S being released later this week, and now, according to CNET, it’s already teasing the dual-core capable A9, due for inclusion in production smartphones in 2010.
The Cortex A9 will be the first smartphone processor to be dual-core configuration capable, further narrowing the gap between what your computer can do and what your phone can do. Next year’s chip will be only 45 nanometers, down from the “bulky” 65 of the A8. The size reduction should reduce power requirements enough to allow a dual-core configuration of A9s to use just about as much power as the current A8.
Not only will the A9 allow for much-improved performance due to its superscalar (can execute two separate instructions per clock cycle) and out-of-order capabilities, but it should also pave the way for much better graphics. The OMAP 4 from Texas Instruments, which is based on the Cortex A9 platform, is said to support 1080p playback and HD recording and image capture capabilities. In other words, if put to proper use, the next generation of smartphones could be capable enough in the A/V capture department to actually allow you to leave the camera and camcorder at home during that European sightseeing vacation you’ve been planning.
Though the current Cortex A8 processor in the iPhone 3G S is technically Apple-branded, many suspect the actual manufacturer to be Samsung. ARM licenses its processor designs for a fee to third-party manufacturers, many of which will tweak the design somewhat and rebrand it as their own product. Texas Instruments, for instance, makes the OMAP 3, which is the processor powering the Palm Pre, and is based on the Cortex A8 design.
If Apple does decide to start making its own processors, one avenue for the company to take is to license ARM’s IP and use that as the basis for its designs. In many ways, it is the smartest solution, since ARM has over 25 years of industry experience under its belt, and the R&D work they put into its designs represents a very large chunk of saved cash compared with doing your own in-house. P.A. Semi was a licensee of ARM design when it produced the StrongARM processor in 1995, which was then part of the spec list for the Apple Newton.
If Apple is working on its own processing chip for the next-generation iPhone, expect it to be based on the Cortex A9. 2010 will be the year of the dual-core smartphone, and that could bring about the first major leap in smartphone tech. Could be one good reason to skip the iPhone 3G S, unless you’re just going to get every model they release anyway because you have a problem, like me.