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28 nm design is likely to be the most powerful ARM architecture core yet; perfect for PCs

ARM Holdings plc (LON:ARM) has long been known for its lightweight intellectual property cores, which have dominated everything from slot machines to smartphones.  Power and ARM cores weren’t typically words you heard uttered in the same sentence.  But with ARM preparing to invade the laptop space, courtesy of Windows 8 RT (ARM edition), the world is getting its first taste of ARM cores clocked at the speeds usually reserved for PC users.

Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Comp., Ltd. (TPE:2330) today announced an important milestone, achieving a stable core clock of 3.1 gigahertz with a Cortex-A9 dual-core chip.  The air-cooled chip, built on TSMC's new 28 nm process, typically operates at lower clock speeds. However, the chip is capable of overclocking to over 3 GHz when performance demands it -- much like rival Intel Corp.'s (INTC"Turbo"-equipped chips.

The chips typically cruise at a more battery-friendly 1.5-2.0 GHz.  Thus, while partners' proprietary designs based on the rapidly maturing process will likely be targeted primarily at the laptop market, there's also the possibility of seeing such speedy designs in tablets or even smartphones.

ARM core
ARM and TSMC are showing that Intel isn't the only one who can play the speed game, showing off a 3 GHz core. [Image Source: Maximum PC]

Cliff Hou, TSMC Vice President, Research & Development, brags, "At 3.1 GHz this 28HPM dual-core processor implementation is twice as fast as its counterpart at TSMC 40nm under the same operating conditions.  This work demonstrates how ARM and TSMC can satisfy high performance market demands. With other implementation options, 28HPM [high performance mobile] is also highly suited for a wide range of markets that prize performance and power efficiency."

ARM Holdings and allies like TSMC need the strong showing.  While they have tremendous potential for growth if they can capture some laptop market share from Intel, they're also facing a counterattack on the smartphone front from Intel.  

Intel's first generation Medfield chips have finally arrived in a limited selection of smartphones, and battery life has been better than expected.  Competition will heat up in 2013 when Intel swaps the 32 nm node Atom Medfield's for a die-shrunk 22 nm version, featuring Intel's power-saving 3D tri-gate transistor design.

In other words ARM, et al. and Intel will be fiercely competing to deliver the most powerful chip computationally with the least electric power consumed.  TSMC's latest effort shows that it can crank up core speeds, but does it have the goods power-efficiency wise?  That remains to be seen.

ARM at least has one trick up its sleeve -- the upcoming ARM Cortex-A15 architecture.

Source: TSMC

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By quiksilvr on 5/3/12, Rating: 0
By Arsynic on 5/3/2012 2:38:06 PM , Rating: 2
Not even a Duopoly in the PC space, AMD is basically an also ran.

By StevoLincolnite on 5/3/2012 3:27:55 PM , Rating: 3
Poor VIA... Always forgotten... :p

By Brandon Hill on 5/3/2012 3:42:14 PM , Rating: 2
VIA seems to be fine with their low-key embedded markets. More power to 'em ;)

By Colin1497 on 5/3/2012 2:48:03 PM , Rating: 5

I don't have a dog in the fight but:

1) ARM isn't invading the desktop space with Windows 8 RT. It's become pretty clear that the ARM version of Windows is pretty limited in that respect, essentially only supporting Metro apps. It's more about Windows invading tablets than it is about ARM invading the desktop.

2) A 3GHz A9 (oh, that's turbo peak, not actually sustained) isn't powerful by modern desktop CPU standards. Sure, it is kind of in the range of what AMD and Intel offered half a decade ago, so it's close to adequate for basic PC usage, but it's not what you'd want to buy in a new machine, even a budget one. Even if it were A15 cores and it were 3Ghz continuous it would be a low to midrange CPU by current desktop standards.

By alyarb on 5/3/2012 3:12:38 PM , Rating: 5
Just about everyone knows this. Jason Mick certainly should, yet he runs these kinds of stories anyway. He knows Windows for ARM won't have a desktop environment and he knows ARM SoCs don't have anywhere near the memory performance or bus logic or external interfaces to compare to any modern x86 device, yet he runs these BS stories regardless. This site is practically a tabloid.

At first I thought this was just a junk food news site for gamers and gadgeteers that actually have little underlying technical education or experience, but seeing a story like this so extravagantly extrapolated without any supporting facts... and his personal review of that little Acura, I don't know anymore. It's like it's his little diary of bad wishes or something.

By SPOOFE on 5/3/2012 5:44:36 PM , Rating: 2
I didn't see any mention of power usage. If a "high end" ARM can match (or just in the same ballpark) the low-end of x86 (like, single-core Celerons or something) but still use significantly less power, I'd consider that interesting. But if they're sucking up as much juice as low-end x86, nah.

By vignyan on 5/3/2012 6:17:29 PM , Rating: 2
I think that is intentional. ARM is not really any power efficient than x86. Decoder takes about 2% of processor power in higher end desktops, and ARM may be better by ~30% in the decoder part. That's about 0.6% better.

I am glad that Jason Mick finally stopped using ARM's "power sipping" and x86 "power hungry" ISA comparisons. I guess medfield proved the point I have been making for a long time on these forums.

Believe it or not, there is more to computer architecture than clock speeds and core counts. That's the reason why all x86 cores dont have same performance (Even with similar cache sizes, core counts, frequencies, process technology). AMD Vs Intel proves that point. That's why it is a separate engineering field. Jason, are you reading this?

And no, one can not just say, its simply a better processor (They are not naturally occurring items, they are engineered.)

By B3an on 5/4/2012 10:59:32 AM , Rating: 2
1: Windows RT will have the desktop environment. As anyone should know by now. It will do almost everything the Windows 8 desktop does, minus running x86 software. But it's there and functional and will have software like Office that will come pre-installed on all Windows RT devices.

2: Nowhere in this article has Jason said that a 3.1GHz A9 SoC will compare to Intels best x86 CPU's regarding performance.

While i dont normally like Jasons articles, i cant see anything wrong with this one. He's not made any stupid claims for once. You just come across as an immature fanboy thats scared or ARM getting a little attention.

By SPOOFE on 5/4/2012 1:58:46 PM , Rating: 2
Nowhere in this article has Jason said that a 3.1GHz A9 SoC will compare to Intels best x86 CPU's regarding performance.

Some of us don't care about comparing ARM to Intel's best; some of us would settle for seeing ARM compared to Intel's worst.

By StevoLincolnite on 5/3/2012 3:24:11 PM , Rating: 2
+1 Arm could have it clocked at 4ghz and it would mean little.
Think about it...
Intels medfield has an IPC in the same ballpark as Arm chips... Medfield is very similar to an Intel Atom... And we all know how dog-slow the Atom is on the Desktop.

By Brandon Hill on 5/3/2012 3:50:47 PM , Rating: 2
Interestingly, my dad has an Atom-based all-in-one Lenovo desktop and it's not bad at all. The only thing he does with it is Word/Excel, and browsing the internet with Internet Explorer (ugh!).

The only holdback seems to the dog slow HDD that is in it... I'm sure an SSD would speed things up a bit.

By ritualm on 5/4/2012 12:50:15 AM , Rating: 2
Medfield is alright for smartphones, not so much with full-blown Windows, and it's the latter that gives Atom such a bad rap.

By B3an on 5/4/2012 6:18:31 AM , Rating: 2
Win 8 will change that, it's a lot lighter and i've got it running very well on ancient hardware from the XP days. If anything it actually runs faster than XP does on slow hardware, certainly better than Win 7, and infinitely better than Vista.

Win 8 tablets will have Clover trail, a dual-core and higher clocked version of Medfiend. I think it will be more than enough for a fast and smooth tablet experience, atleast as good as anything the competition has.

By MZperX on 5/4/2012 12:04:15 PM , Rating: 2

I have an old Athlon XP 2600+ with 1GB of RAM on a VIA KM266 chipset in a tiny Shuttle SK41G case. It's been running Windows XP Pro since about 2003. Works like a champ, even used for some limited gaming with a Radeon 9500 AGP video card.

Do you think this relic could run Windows 8 at least semi-decently? I'd like to breathe new life into it but Vista and Win7 were absolute no-go. Of course it's 32-bit only and I'm not sure if Windows 8 is available in 32-bit version. I guess it should be if it's supposed to run on lower end devices...


By fsd on 5/5/2012 3:58:28 PM , Rating: 2
They don't say how long it runs at the faster speed, but it does say it's fanless, which is significant. Not many, if any devices, operating at 3GHz+ with just a fanless heatsink.

By rs2 on 5/3/2012 11:42:38 PM , Rating: 2
Yes, we need more competition. No, it should not take the form of ARM chips in desktop/laptop systems. If they want to compete in that space, let them compete with an x86-based solution.

We *do not* need to start an architecture war in an established space filled with software that millions of people use and rely upon daily and which is only compatible with one of the two major architectures.

By steven975 on 5/4/2012 10:15:32 AM , Rating: 2
Even at 3Ghz, the ARM designs just don't hold a candle to any x86 chip in performance.

This might actually eclipse a single core Atom, though.

By jwcalla on 5/3/2012 4:07:57 PM , Rating: 2
I'm more interested in seeing how these ARM chips perform in the low-end server space. E.g., home file servers, etc. When it has to run 24/7, power savings are more persuasive.

RE: cool
By rs2 on 5/3/2012 11:50:51 PM , Rating: 2
Just get an Atom. It works just as well for that sort of low-demand, continuous-operation kind of setup. And no need to wait for Windows 8 RT to be released.

RE: cool
By telvoid on 5/5/2012 12:45:47 PM , Rating: 2
If you're OK with using Linux for your home server you could set one up even with a much less powerful, current ARM board. The Raspberry Pi, for example, is running a horribly outdated and slow ARM processor and still has acceptable performance.

If someone sold one of these processors on an easy-to-use board with real storage interfaces (read SATA) it would be the perfect choice for such a setup. Having a hub to store all my files without even needing a CPU cooling fan would be really useful, at least for me.

Windows 8 RT could also have been an option but it seems to be tailored towards mobile devices such as tablets with a focus on consuming content, rather than creating or serving it.

Intel vs. ARM in a Picture
By KartikJay on 5/3/2012 3:53:12 PM , Rating: 2
Diagrammatic representation of the Intel vs. ARM battle:

RE: Intel vs. ARM in a Picture
By Strunf on 5/4/2012 7:48:42 AM , Rating: 2
The diagram is pointless, all the so called ARMy companies ARE NOT completely engaged on the ARM thing, only a very small fraction of the money they spent on research or make is actually related to ARM, besides they are competing with each other it's not like the progress Apple does on its SOC will benefit Qualcomm too, quite the contrary since they have to compete with each other the benefits will be lower and hence the money they can afford to invest on research will be lower too.

Intel will...
By vortmax2 on 5/4/2012 11:43:26 AM , Rating: 2
...eventually win the chip battle on smartphones/tablets for one main reason: process. They will always be one or two steps ahead on their die shrinks (and gate tech) which will ultimately help them win this silicon battle (especially considering the 'wall' foundries are approaching with silicon-based processor tech).

My hope is that the competition doesn't fall too far behind in the coming years so that prices stay competitive.

By whyRuCloseMynded on 5/28/2012 10:31:02 PM , Rating: 2
Reading some of these comments.. just wow!
I would truthfully enjoy a hit of what you all are smoking. Windows! really? ... here is a clue. Choose your software wisely and you can run anything your heart desires on ANY device made in the last decade easily. Windows is a very poor example of an OS to lead the way into a power-efficient future. Do you honestly believe if ARM were to come out with a Cortex A-15 quad core laptop chip for the mobile space that Win 8 would be the only option available.. ill take Linux anyday of the week. Unless you know of a version of Windows that run entirely in RAM?
As far as Architecture goes... im running an Atom N550 with Ubuntu 12.04. There isnt anything i cant do (outside of 1080p gaming - HD video playback.. i have a gaming console and big screen tv for that) that i could do on my desktop. Oh and when i want to go outside... im getting a solid 8 hours of webbing around. ARM holdings will push this sort of ideology well beyond what Intel is capable of.. outside of high-end - computational prowess brute force high dollar computing - theyve never had a straw. AMD owns the mid-range nowadays... do you know why? NO ONE CARES about 10 second faster yet more expensive chips. ARM Holdings dominates the mobile markets.
ARM is capable of server boards running 16+cores under 20 watts. Think of what could be possible when they put some of that R&D into ultrathin laptops - all in ones... do you really care if you have to wait 30 secs longer for specific apps when you have the ability to run 16 of them simultaneously? Let alone when OSes much like Haiku become ready for primetime. BeOS on Risc anybody?
Quit giving Software companies the EASY OUT.. Software have far been behind Hardware for a good decade... thanks in large part to this Windows you speak of.

By alyarb on 5/3/12, Rating: 0
"Paying an extra $500 for a computer in this environment -- same piece of hardware -- paying $500 more to get a logo on it? I think that's a more challenging proposition for the average person than it used to be." -- Steve Ballmer

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