Next ARM chip will add muscle to smart phones, tablets

Cortex-A15 promises fivefold increase in performance

Tablet PCs and smart phones stand to get a lot more powerful around the end of 2012. That’s when ARM, which makes most of the processors used in those devices, plans to release its Cortex-A15 system-on-a chip.

The A15 will provide five times the performance of the company’s current Cortex-A9, which is used in high-performing devices today, and more than 10 times the performance in ARM-based platforms, the company says.

For example, the company promises 1 GHz to 1.5 GHz performance for smart phone and mobile computing in single and dual-core configurations, and 1.5 GHz to 2.5 GHz performance for home and Web 2.0 servers in quad-core configurations. Despite the gains in speed, ARM says the A15 will maintain the Cortex’s relatively low power-usage rate, which has made it attractive for mobile computing devices.


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ARM licenses its designs to chip-makers Nvidia, Samsung, Texas Instruments and Qualcomm. Those companies are expected to begin with dual-core designs for the A15, before moving to quad-core designs, according to a report in InformationWeek.

The announcement is further evidence of the explosion in processing power for mobile devices. At the World Mobile Congress in Barcelona in February, Nvidia said it is focusing on quad-core processors and demonstrated a quad — nicknamed Kal-El, after Superman — running an Android tablet, running games and streaming high-resolution video.

And Intel, which has long dominated PC processors but got caught flat-footed on mobile devices, has retooled its Atom processor for tablet use. Its new chip, named Oak Trail, is 60 percent smaller and more efficient that its Atom predecessor, and supports operating systems such as Android, Windows and Google Chrome.

Industry experts have been predicting the death of the PC for years, as users opted increasingly for laptops and netbooks. But as the power of smart phones and tablets increase, laptops, too, would seem to be in jeopardy. In March, a Gartner report said sales of laptops — or, as the report calls them, “mobile PCs” — was slowing, while sales of the iPad and other tablets are on the rise.

About the Author

Kevin McCaney is editor of Defense Systems. Follow him on Twitter: @KevinMcCaney.

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