U.K. chip manufacturer ARM last week unveiled a chip architecture that could simultaneously bring down the cost of smart phones while extending their battery life.
The architecture combines an ultra-efficient new processor with a high-performance version on the same chip. A smart phone will be able to switch between the two depending on the task at hand, says Nandan Nayampally, ARM’s director of CPU product marketing. Nayampally adds that operating system software will need to be rewritten to take advantage of this dual-brain feature.
ARM licenses processor and chipset designs to other companies, which then manufacture the chips. The company has specialized in small, low-cost chips for many years, a strategy that has put it in an ideal position to capitalize on the shift toward mobile computing. More than 90 percent of all smart phones use chips based on ARM designs.
In the past couple of years, Intel has sought to catch up, by developing a line of chips, known as Atom, for mobile devices; but these have not so far matched the performance or efficiency of ARM-based hardware.
For high-performance applications such as Web browsing, navigation, or gaming, software built into the chipset will use the powerful Cortex-A15 MPCore processor. For less-demanding background tasks, such as voice calls or text messaging, it switches to its new low-power Cortex-A7 processor.
“Smart phones already have dual-core processing today,” says Nayampally, referring to chips such as ARM’s Cortex-A9, which contains two separate central processing units. By dividing up data and allowing it to be processed in parallel, programmers can wring more performance out of dual or multicore chips. ARM’s new architecture extends this model of multiprocessing to processors of different size and performance.