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ARM enhances 32bit core for midmarket

Posted: 13 Feb 2014  Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:ARM  32bit core  midrange 

ARM's 32bit core upgrade and first display controller will be on the market in March. The Cortex-A17 processor core and Mali-DP500 DPU target the growing market for midrange handsets, and are estimated to appear in chips late this year and smartphones in 2015.

The A17 is a step above A12's 32bit microarchitecture featuring an enhanced memory sub-system that was announced as a core for midrange mobile phones at the Taipei Computex in June 2013. The A17 will deliver about the same performance at 40 per cent less power than the previous high-end 32bit core A15 when made in a targeted 28nm process. The A17 will run at about the same data rates as the A9, between 1.5GHz and 2.3GHz.

The DP500 display controller is ARM's first chip based on technology from the Panta line it acquired from Cadence Design Systems last September. The cores target sockets in smartphones that sell for $200 to $350.

"We expect this midmarket to grow pretty quickly," says Ian Ferguson, vice president of segment marketing at ARM, citing sales predictions from market watchers of 500 million units a year.

At CES in January, China's RockChip showed an applications processor using the A12. Taiwan's Mediatek, Realtek, and Via are expected to be among the early users of the A17.

"Over this year we expect most people starting new [32bit smartphone] designs will use the A17," says Ferguson.

"This is an evolution of ARM's 32bit road map," says Kevin Krewell, senior analyst with market watcher Tirias Research. "The A15 was going to be ARM's 32bit workhorse for high performance, but A15 designs don't scale to higher clock speeds and have lots of overhead—ARM realised it got more out of the A12."

"We believe that the high end of mobile space, previously the domain of the Cortex-A15, will move to 64bit," Ferguson says. "Obviously, shipments of A15 into this application will remain for some time to come—these transitions take time—but the next phase of the A15's life will be into other applications." He points to potential use in everything from cars to communications systems to TVs.

Midrange smartphones "will go 64bit at some point, but whether that happens at the next rev of the processor or whether there is another 32bit core is hard to determine." If ARM does roll out another 32bit A-series core, it will likely focus more on the needs of embedded systems such as home gateways and smart TVs than smartphones, says Ferguson.

The DP500 display controller is part of a "package of technologies for the 2015 midrange phone" that includes the recently launched Mali-T720, according to Ferguson. The DR500 handles image compositing using less energy than a mobile graphics core. It also promises secure delivery of paid content.

- Rick Merritt
  EE Times





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