What the Next 10 Years Could Look Like for Arm v9

Article By : Don Scansen

The ARMv9 architecture will span a large range of technologies for its various implementations.

About a month ago, Arm announced its next generation of architecture — V9. For the time being, the eighth iteration of the Arm architecture (ARMv8) is the most advanced architecture in the wild of system-on-chip (SoC) devices. We can expect a few leading SoC companies to begin the transition over the next year or so.

Since the v8 architecture was the mainstay for a decade, it will be interesting to look back to those early days in order to attempt to look forward at what some future v9 devices might look like over its lifespan.

Arm’s world (source: Arm). Click on the image for a larger view.

X-File

The Arm announcement came only a few weeks after its latest innovation on the ARMv8 platform hit the streets. The Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 was the first SoC to deploy the X1 core. Arm offered the X1 to select partners through the Cortex-X Custom (CXC — because we can never have too many acronnyms) Program.

The Arm X cores may be opened up to other clients, but the program is limited for now.

The same appears to be true of the v9 so far as Mediatek announced a product for 2021 as part of Arm’s V9 presentation. For the company that got it’s start in mobile products by developing feature phone chipsets, it seems a bit of a coup for Mediatek as it moves ever closer to the forefront of the SoC world.

ARMv8

Back to looking back, the first ARMv8 SoC was the X-Gene from Applied Micro announced in 2011. This was also an exclusive at the time since Anand Lai Shimpi reported that there was no “no officially announced, licensable ARMv8 core from ARM itself.”

The first ARMv8 devices were manufactured in a 40 nm process technology. This was well before finFETs back when transistors were boring and flat, like the old accusation of the western plains of North America. Flat, mostly. But boring, not even close.

With the lens of 2021, seeing Applied Micro first out of the gate is a surprise, but a few familiar names were obviously on the ARMv8 in the early years.

Qualcomm’s first v8 SoC was the Snapdragon 400 series. The 410 was announced at the end of 2013. It was Qualcomm’s first 64 bit processor and the first SoC manufactured in China on 28nm. The wafers were provided by SMIC.

The Snapdragon 410 was the first ARMv8 SoC from Qualcomm (source: teknovudu)

Never shy about its firsts (or at least marketing itself that way), Apple laid claim to the first 64-bit smartphone device with the A7 processor from the iPhone 5S that first appeared in September 2013.

Apple’s A7 was manufactured by Samsung on its 28nm high-K, metal gate (HKMG) technology.

Of course, HKMG is very old process news these days, but what is new? Will an ARMv9 processor be the first device manufactured using the next semiconductor processing technology?

2D or Not 2D?

This will be the replacement technology for the finFET. Gate all around or GAA is expected to be rolling out of the foundries within the year.

Samsung could well be the first foundry to produce a GAA device for a commercial product. Samsung will use a nanosheet channel (rather than a wire). Samsung has an exclusive term: multi-bridge channel FET (MBCFET) for their gate all around technology. Samsung has announced risk production for foundry clients last year and that a high volume ramp will take place this year.

ARMv9 devices will span technology from finFET to 2D material FETs (source: Nature)

If the presence of Mediatek on the Arm announcement is an indication, they may be the first to market with the ARMv9. In that case, we can expect these device to be on a finFET technology. But a wider adoption of the ARMv9 will coincide closely with the transition to gate all around transistors.

This is only the beginning. ARMv9 development will take place over the coming decade. A lot of new technology will be rolled during that time.

Gate all around concepts will continue through a few variants up to the stacking of the complimentary polarities (CFET).

The International Roadmap for Devices and Systems (IRDS) suggests that a transition to 2D material channel FETs might take place this decade.

The ARMv9 architecture will span a large range of technologies for its various implementations. Starting on FinFET and finishing up with two dimensional materials might be similar to fighting from the trenches of WWI and then seeing men walk on the moon for the first time live on television.

This article was originally published on EE Times.

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