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ARM A9  (Source: CNET News)
A9 can go all the way up to quad-core for smartphones

The smartphone world is filled with handsets running ARM processors. Many of the most popular smartphones around including the iPhone 3G S and the new Palm Pre run ARM-based processors. A new ARM processor architecture is due to hit next year that will greatly increase the performance that smartphones offer.

The new processor is the ARM Cortex-A9. The current Cortex-A8 used on devices like the Palm Pre and is a single-core processor. The A9 set to debut early in 2010 is a dual-core processor. ARM says that while the new A9 architecture is a dual-core chip, it will still offer users increased battery life in daily usage compared to current single-core ARM processors.

The reason the processor can offer significantly higher performance and still give better battery life is due to the construction of the new A9. The A9 will be built using a 45nm process whereas the current A8 uses a 65nm process.

ARM wireless segment manager James Bruce told CNET News, "You'll definitely see handsets shipping with a dual-core A9 in 2010." He continues saying, "the A8 is just a single core while the A9 will be dual-core, all the way up to quad-core to give smartphones an even bigger performance boost."

The new A9 processor operates inside the 300-milliwatt power envelope that is the golden rule in the mobile phone industry. By comparison, the wildly popular Intel Atom processor needs 2,000 milliwatts, but future Atom versions codenamed Moorestown will bring Atom power levels to the realm of smartphone usability.

Other than performance improvements of compared to that of the A8, the A9 will also allow smartphones to support 1080p video along with HD video recording and playback.

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By omnicronx on 6/16/2009 12:50:54 PM , Rating: 2
I'm not ragging on a certain company/product here.. (ok I am), but what good is multi-core when you cannot multitask?

I know there are benefits, but the ability to multitask is the big one.

RE: multicore
By FITCamaro on 6/16/2009 12:53:58 PM , Rating: 5
I think the Pre can multitask. And even if you can only run one app at a time, the phone is doing more than one thing at a time. Besides there's always those things called threads. Write multi-threaded applications for phones.

RE: multicore
By omnicronx on 6/16/2009 1:08:02 PM , Rating: 2
The Pre can multitask, I was talking about the iPhone.. I also thought of multithreading, but as I stated the biggest benefit of multicore in a normal user environment is multitasking. Rarely will a single desktop multithreaded app bring more than one core to its knees, most of the time the load is balanced along both cores.

My point here is that this could be a big advantage of WebOS and Windows mobile, as the iPhone OS was not designed with multitasking in mind, and I do not see how they could go back and enable it on old devices, because there must have been a reason to implement that kind of limitation in the first place.

RE: multicore
By TomZ on 6/16/2009 1:16:41 PM , Rating: 3
Even though the iPhone only allows one application to be active at a time, there are lots of operating system tasks that are also active. For example, networking, call management, etc. Therefore, the iPhone and its OS is already multitasking (time-slicing in that case), even though the user is constrained to just use one app at a time. And whether those multiple tasks are assigned to one core or multiple cores is mostly a performance question.

RE: multicore
By omnicronx on 6/16/2009 1:30:39 PM , Rating: 3
How much overhead do you really think these operating system tasks require though? So of course they could make use of it, but will it result in an increase in speed? I have my doubts.

I think my real question here is, how will this affect Apple going forward? All of the big 4 (let alone Apple) are going to have trouble going forward with their apps stores and compatibility between devices. Will Apple be forced to take the approach of Google, and have version specific applications? Or will Apple merely not allow multi threaded applications and have their own form of load balancing to deal with new devices that are multicore?

I'm just wondering that's all.. I'm really interesting on how all four App stores will deal with this.

RE: multicore
By TomZ on 6/16/2009 1:34:32 PM , Rating: 3
I'm not sure what you're getting at. Does iPhone prohibit multi-threaded apps? I thought the restriction was one app at a time. Multi-threaded apps will just run faster with multiple cores, that's all. That's the same as we have with desktop PCs.

One thing that will be interesting, I can guarantee, is that if you develop a multi-threaded app on a single core machine, then later run it on a multi-core machine, you are probably going to find threading bugs in your original code.

RE: multicore
By omnicronx on 6/16/2009 3:33:29 PM , Rating: 2
Misinformation on my part =/ I thought the iPhone did prohibit multithreaded apps, which never made sense to me.

I noticed that a lot of iPhone devs make use of asynchronous thread calls and i figured it was because of some kind of limitation with multithreading.
One thing that will be interesting, I can guarantee, is that if you develop a multi-threaded app on a single core machine, then later run it on a multi-core machine, you are probably going to find threading bugs in your original code.
Without a doubt.. I remember having to set the processor affinity on many Windows apps when dualcore was first released because of the reasons you described.

RE: multicore
By cparka23 on 6/16/2009 5:40:33 PM , Rating: 2
The processor uses an in-order architecture. Adding an extra core will probably do more to prevent bottlenecks than multithreading alone.

RE: multicore
By omnicronx on 6/16/2009 8:15:43 PM , Rating: 2
No, its not.. Unlike its predecessors, the Cortex A9 is an out of order processor and from what I have read, it does so very aggressively.

RE: multicore
By omnicronx on 6/16/2009 1:18:44 PM , Rating: 2
ugg can't believe i said that, obviously having more than one core gives you the the ability to execute multiple threads which always an advantage.. but right now I can only see this being implemented in games, I find it would be a waste of time designing a multithreaded app that would probably run almost as fast as a non multithreaded app. Its not like it takes that much horsepower to run google maps.

RE: multicore
By TomZ on 6/16/2009 1:31:03 PM , Rating: 2
I think you're still missing the point. Performance is not the only reason to make an application multithreaded. Another reason is responsiveness. For example, you mentioned google maps, and that is a good example. That kind of app needs to at the same time handle user interaction without delay and communicate with the server. For example, when it is fetching data from the server, its GUI still needs to be responsive to user interaction during the communication round trip.

Not to mention all the OS tasks that are also running at the same time to support the application...

RE: multicore
By omnicronx on 6/16/2009 3:14:07 PM , Rating: 2
That was kind of the point of my second post i.e I was correcting myself. While your example makes sense, the penalty of having to wait for the action to complete may not even be noticeable to the user, especially when (using your example) you probably need that fetched data to continue anyways. Its not like the gui will freeze because you are making a call to the server. I see more of an advantage in say caching data needed in the next step while making the call to fetch data from the server. Even then, the difference would probably negligence, but it would require much more coding effort.

Many windows apps are still do not make use of multiple threads for this very reason.

RE: multicore
By Shadowself on 6/16/2009 2:29:10 PM , Rating: 3
On the iPhone, while Ap store applications cannot multitask (i.e., you cannot have multiple Ap store applications running concurrently) you definitely can have more than one application running concurrently. You certainly can have the iPod application running while surfing in the iPhone's version of Safari or while your checking/downloading/reading your email.

I suspect that even Apple will get off their buts and allow multitasking Ap store applications once this new core ships.

RE: multicore
By TomZ on 6/16/2009 2:48:23 PM , Rating: 5
It seems likely that the single-app limitation was designed to not expose performance and/or battery life issues with the current iPhone hardware.

RE: multicore
By DotNetGuru on 6/16/2009 3:11:02 PM , Rating: 5
Apple's vision for multi-tasking on the iPhone: "Just buy two iPhones"

RE: multicore
By Sazar on 6/16/2009 4:20:53 PM , Rating: 2
I agree with you to a degree.

I am not sure why Apple doesn't open the phone up a little bit.

The only item I can really multi-task with is the iPod application, running it in the background while browsing the web or checking my mail or facebook or whatever else.

I would LOVE to be able to do the same with Pandora or Orb running in the background and not having to relaunch the applications everytime I switch between them.

I am assuming it has to do with memory management and overall smoothness of the OS. However, I feel if the next iPhone expected in 2010 (assumed, based on the current release schedule) comes with a dual-core proc AND more memory, we may indeed see a lot more multi-tasking available.

RE: multicore
By psychobriggsy on 6/16/2009 5:27:03 PM , Rating: 3
The iPhone OS, being built upon Mac OS X, fully supports multitasking - indeed the jailbreaked iPhones have full multitasking capability. However Apple have restricted multitasking on the iPhone, and instead forced applications to have incredibly quick state-saving and quit behaviour, and an appearance of loading instantly. This is good for all those applications that you don't need running in the background, but sucks for, e.g., streaming audio.

Of course the iPhone OS allows the iPod software to multitask, as well as the background notification handler, and the springboard launcher, and about a dozen other services. Quite why Apple didn't let people write lightweight background services is beyond me, it strikes me as rather dictatorial control over their platform.

Anyway, a dual-core A9 next year with 512MB RAM will be more powerful than some early PowerMacs with dual-G3s/G4s. No reason to not enable multitasking then, IMO.

RE: multicore
By eddieroolz on 6/16/2009 6:03:51 PM , Rating: 2
Well it's Apple. They'll charge you $20 to unlock the multitasking capability of your phone instead of giving it to you outright.

RE: multicore
By psonice on 6/17/2009 6:55:30 AM , Rating: 2
There are quality issues to consider with background services.

If an app leaks memory or hangs, it crashes or you force quit the thing and there's not much issue. If a background service starts leaking memory everything else gets affected and you're left wondering why and rebooting the phone every few hours. If it hangs in a way that leaves it taking 100% cpu time, if you're lucky you'll notice that everything is running slow and reboot the phone. If not, you'll be out of battery in an hour or so. Not good!

Another thing to consider: the phone has limited memory. A lot of apps use pretty much all of the memory available, especially games. If you're running half a dozen apps, you're not going to have the memory left to even launch those apps. Also, if you're running something that uses a fair bit of CPU, then launch a game, the speed is going to be poor. None of this is adding up to a good user experience..

I guess apple will want solid ways of dealing with these cases before allowing any kind of user multitasking. The pre presumably has ways of dealing with it, but then the pre has no real sdk and no real apps so far, just advanced web apps. It'll be interesting to see what the pre is like when they start allowing native apps.

RE: multicore
By MrBlastman on 6/16/2009 2:35:14 PM , Rating: 3
The CORE would disagree. I am surely certain that they are quite upset with their ARM rivals producing such a powerful new assembly.

I imagine that CORE K-Bot labs are retooling as we think... the ARM will pay for this...

RE: multicore
By SublimeSimplicity on 6/16/2009 3:16:45 PM , Rating: 2
Even if the main OS doesn't support multitasking, the other core(s) can be used by the device firmware to service HW interrupts, decode video, etc...

There's quite a bit of driver overhead in driving advanced HW acceleration like 3D graphics and video decode. That processing can be off loaded from the application processor.

RE: multicore
By omnicronx on 6/16/2009 3:51:36 PM , Rating: 2
There's quite a bit of driver overhead in driving advanced HW acceleration like 3D graphics and video decode. That processing can be off loaded from the application processor.
Depends on whether or not the CPU is the bottleneck. In the case of the iPhone, you are most likely correct, as ipod touchs have the ability to display more polys with the bumped up clockspeed while using the exact same GPU.

RE: multicore
By phatboye on 6/16/2009 4:38:33 PM , Rating: 2
I'd figure that would be the point of adding multiple cores to the ARM CPU. Current mobile devices don't allow multitasking because the current hardware isn't fast enough to support it. With the addition of additional cores I'm sure future mobile OSes will have multitasking capabilities.

RE: multicore
By jmurbank on 6/16/2009 7:24:47 PM , Rating: 2
I'm not ragging on a certain company/product here.. (ok I am), but what good is multi-core when you cannot multitask? I know there are benefits, but the ability to multitask is the big one.

It all depends on the operating system if it can control the threads safely. Since threads are not always safe, embeds will not use them. Embeds require stability and reliability. If the A9 chip is able to separate the programs in memory, threading could be used safely. The A9 chip might be better in a netbook.

Like any multi-core processor. It gains more performance when multiple services are running. On the 80x86 side, a multi-core processor can get better battery usage by distributing drivers for hardware on separate processors. Intel calls this IRQ Balance.

"Folks that want porn can buy an Android phone." -- Steve Jobs
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