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ARM, the chip design firm whose processor designs are in almost all of the world’s smartphones, is beefing up its portfolio for the internet of things. The UK-based company has launched a new core called the Cortex-M7, a microcontroller that adds more performance and more abilities when it comes to translating sensor data into digital information. Microcontrollers are used in the embedded market and run lower-level operating systems, while the higher-level A-class of ARM processors are both faster and also can run OSes such as Linux, Android or iOS.
The new core design joins the existing microcontroller designs that range from the smallest, lowest energy cores found in devices like the Misfit Shine to the higher-level microcontrollers found inside cars and home hubs. The Cortex-M7 core is already in semiconductors from STMicroelectronics, Atmel and Freescale and Nandan Nayampally, VP of marketing, application processor systems for ARM, expects the design to do well in both the automotive and industrial settings where real-time information processing at lower power is essential.
The M-class of cores represents ARM’s next big growth market, according to Nayampally. While its A-class of processors have found homes in smartphones and are moving upmarket into servers and networking gear, there is a huge opportunity and a wider base of licensing customers in the embedded market thanks to the growth in hardware attaching to the internet of things.
ARM only offers 32-bit microcontrollers, and both the M-4 and M-7 designs include a digital signal processor capability allowing them to play sound and interpret analog sensor data. This makes them valuable in audio components and also in sensor hubs. The M-7 offers roughly twice the performance at its current process node, but will offer more with less of a power hit as it’s made on smaller and smaller manufacturing processes.
Again, these aren’t designed to run a cell phone or even a car’s telematics system, but it’s perfect for industrial gateways and certain smart home applications.