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ARM is claiming that its new multi-core A15 design will deliver 5 times the performance of current designs, at the same energy as current designs.  (Source: ARM)

The Cortex A15 will join the lower-end Cortex A9 dual-core design to compete with upcoming netbook/smart phone offerings from Intel based on the Atom CPU.  (Source: Intel via Engadget)
Coming soon to an Android phone near you

Smaller, faster, more energy efficient -- those are the goals of ARM's Cortex A15 multi-core CPU.  The processor architectures packs speeds of up to 2.5 GHz and up to four discrete cores, each with the own integer processing unit, floating point processing unit, and L1 cache.  There will be 1, 2, 4, and 8 core variants.

Today the CPU market stands sharply differentiated.  In one corner stands ARM king of the smartphones and energy-efficient proponent of reduced-instruction set computing (RISC).  From iPhones to Androids, most smartphones on the market comes packed with an ARM processor; some come packed with 2 or more.

On the other side of the fence is Intel, whose x86 architecture is the champion of complex instruction set computing (CISC), supporting the market's most powerful CPU designs.

Both groups are eager to take over the other's turf.  With the launch of the Cortex A15, codenamed "Eagle", ARM is not only targeting high power smartphones, but netbooks and potentially notebooks as well.  And with Intel's impending release of an under-1 watt Atom CPU, ARM's rival looks to invade the smartphone market.

On paper ARM's new multi-core processor has some considerable advantages over Intel's Atom.  Atom can only execute two instructions at a time, while Cortex A15 can execute three.  Atom currently can only reach 2.13 GHz (the Intel Atom Z560) -- ARM's Cortex A15 CPU is capable of higher speeds.

The Cortex A15 is also extremely aggressive when it comes to turning off parts of it that are unused.  ARM claims that nearly every part of the CPU is voltage-gated.  However, it takes only 10 µs for the component to go from powered-down to standby, and from standby to active.  Combined, that means that the system should have continue to deliver on ARM's legacy of being more energy efficient that x86 architectures, while not sacrificing performance.

One advantage Intel 
may have, though, is with memory.  While the Cortex A15 adds extended memory support, for up to 1 TB of total memory, ARM has not announced what kind of memory the chip will support.  Intel has already announced that its upcoming refresh of the Atom CPU will be able to make use of the more efficient DDR3, by contrast.

Like the Atom, the new ARM CPU uses advanced technologies like hardware error checking.  It also brings support for virtualization to the ARM lineup for the first time.  Support for fully cache coherent bus protocol -- which allows multi-socket systems -- has also been added for the first time.  

The new architecture is slated for production at the 32 nm and 28 nm nodes.

At the moment there's a couple key manufacturers of ARM smartphone processors.  One is Samsung, which makes the CPU core of Apple's proprietary A4 chip found in the most recent iterations of the iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch.  Samsung also make the CPU for the best-selling Galaxy S smartphones.  Another important player is Texas Instruments who makes the processors found in the Droid X/Droid 2 smartphones.

The announcement of the Cortex A15 licensing availability comes just as these players prepare their first dual-core Cortex A9 designs are preparing to hit the market.  Leading the charge will be Samsung 1 GHz Orion CPU and Texas Instruments OMAP4430 (up to 1 GHz)/OMAP4440 (1+ GHz).  Both processors are slated for Q4 2010 launch and Q1 2011

The only player in the smartphone industry who 
isn't directly licensing the ARM architecture is Qualcomm which uses the ARM's instruction sets (RISC) in its designs, but does not use the architecture itself.  Qualcomm's ARM-like CPU designs are commonly used in HTC's Android smartphones like the HTC EVO 4G.  Qualcomm has already announced that its 1.2 GHz dual-core MSM8260/MSM8660 will be available this quarter and 1.5 GHz QSD8272/QSD8672 variants will be available in Q4 2010.

Expect new designs from TI and Samsung based on the Cortex A15 core to be announced shortly, with mass availability likely set for sometime next year.  And expect Qualcomm to officially unveil its own upcoming quad-core smartphone ARM-instruction set designs soon as well.

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What's next?
By fstarnella on 9/10/2010 10:04:19 AM , Rating: 3
When is the Tricorder going to show up?

RE: What's next?
By Flunk on 9/10/2010 10:42:38 AM , Rating: 2
They already did that, although it is a real scientific instrument and quite expensive (5k I think is the starting price).

RE: What's next?
By Helbore on 9/10/2010 3:07:52 PM , Rating: 3
Check the android market. It's already here!

visualization or virtualization?
By Ralos on 9/10/2010 10:59:43 AM , Rating: 3
It also brings support for visualization to the ARM lineup for the first time.

Visualization? What does that mean exactly?

And if it's a typo and supposed to be virtualization, then, what for??

RE: visualization or virtualization?
By omnicronx on 9/10/2010 11:38:16 AM , Rating: 2
He meant virtualization, and its because this could most likely be used as a server part. Notice how it also has multi socket support, up to 8 cores, and up to 1TB of main memory. i.e This is clearly not designed for mobile use.

Looks like arm is making a move on the server market =X

RE: visualization or virtualization?
By ekv on 9/10/2010 1:00:53 PM , Rating: 2
There is some development along the low power supercomputer front,us-boffins-de...

I couldn't find the article I was looking for, but there is a company working exclusively with low power CPU's, tailored architecture, rack-mount, and so on. There's also SuperMicro's entry ...

So there is a certain, specific market demand for such technology.

Not necessarily for phones
By nafhan on 9/10/2010 9:33:19 AM , Rating: 3
From other stuff I've read, it sounds like the A15 is really being designed for the tablet/"smartbook" and high density server market rather than phones - at least at 32nm. It'll be more of a faster, yet power hungry, compliment to the A9 rather than a replacement.

RE: Not necessarily for phones
By omnicronx on 9/10/2010 10:42:17 AM , Rating: 2
Ya I've read conflicting reports, basically saying this is not a cell phone or even netbook chip at all, but more than likely a laptop/server part.

Also from what I've read, the power requirements are also not even close to other variants like the A9/A8 as described in the article, its more in line with the atom.

Ars even goes as far to flat out say 'Not a successor to the A9, but a big brother'.

Sweet jesus!
By Cheesew1z69 on 9/10/2010 9:07:17 AM , Rating: 2
I'll take 2 please!

By LordSojar on 9/11/2010 2:48:24 AM , Rating: 2
Is an antiquated architecture that needs to go away already. It's really holding back development in both hardware and software fields. Time to move on, and ARM is a big player in doing so.

Also, taking into account Atom's dismal performance... something needed to be done for the booming netbook market. Bobcat looks promising, but only real benchmarks will provide evidence of improvement; paper specs can only tell you a small part of the story.

Looking forward to seeing some numbers on the A15 as well as Bobcat. Consumers shouldn't have to put up with the horrid thing that is Atom...

The A15 has up to 16 cores
By Shining Arcanine on 9/12/2010 11:26:18 PM , Rating: 2
Every other news site I have read says that this design scales up to 16 cores.

Another one for NAS...
By fteoath64 on 9/13/2010 5:32:05 AM , Rating: 2
New CPUs are always a great thing to see. This one can do a great job for the consumer NAS market which has yet to take off.
Would like to see something like Seagate DockStar with many more USB and firewire ports and maybe even a standalone AP built into it!.

Guess I'm going to hold out for a bit longer
By Denigrate on 9/10/10, Rating: -1
RE: Guess I'm going to hold out for a bit longer
By MrTeal on 9/10/2010 10:59:31 AM , Rating: 2
There hasn't even been an announcement yet on any chips that will use this new core, much less a release date or a phone that will use it.

Those dual-core A9's that are just about to hit the market? They had the same kind of architecture launch as this, back in 2007.

I think you're probably safe to buy a new phone.

RE: Guess I'm going to hold out for a bit longer
By omnicronx on 9/10/2010 11:10:48 AM , Rating: 3
Exactly, Cortex A8 was announced in 2005, and it was not until the palm pre(i think that was the first mainstream phone we saw in North America) that it was used in a smartphone. (4 years)

Sure things are heating up with ARM, but I still don't expect these A15s to be in use for 2-3+ years, and that probably won't be a smartphone variant.

The A9's are what we are waiting for, dual core and jump in clockspeed and out of order architecture.... mmmm yum..

RE: Guess I'm going to hold out for a bit longer
By ekv on 9/10/2010 12:34:01 PM , Rating: 2
You're probably right ... though things seem a little different this time. If Intel is breathing down your neck, you may tend to push the A15 development along, no? Not only that, with MSFT jumping in it is readily apparent the mobile market has arrived [not to mention HTPC]. Lots of players. "We need those chips, now." My two bits....

By omnicronx on 9/10/2010 12:52:19 PM , Rating: 2
ARM doesn't really make chips, these are merely reference designs that chip makers will base their chips from ;) So there is really nothing they can do to speed anything up as the ball is not in their court.

So unless a manufacturer such as Samsung says 'we need those chips now', nothing will come of it. As was stated, we havnt even reached the Cortex A9 era, we are quite far away from next the revision ;)

By BillyBatson on 9/11/2010 4:08:24 PM , Rating: 2
Everyone is right, don't wait. The 2-core version for the CPU the iphone4 uses was laid out before us last nov/dec, it will take nearly a year + from now for quadcores to show up in phones

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