Two years ago ARM announced their Cortex-A15 CPU architecture, and now we are finally seeing it appear in devices like the new Samsung Nexus 10. This week ARM announced their new Cortex-A50 processor series, which includes ARMs first low-power 64-bit implementations of the ARMv8 architecture. This latest generation of chips will not appear in mobile devices until 2014, but it’s always fun to look into the future and see what’s coming.
“Consumers expect a personalized mobile experience, integrating their daily lives, with seamless connectivity providing access to vast amounts of information. The ARM ecosystem will continue its rate of unprecedented innovation to enable diverse platforms. This will deliver an era of transformational computing, from mobile through to the infrastructure and servers that support consumers’ connected, mobile lifestyles. This will create massive opportunities for market expansion and a revolution in user experiences,” said Simon Segars, executive vice president, processor and physical IP divisions, ARM.
The new family of Cortex-A50 processors includes the Cortex-A57 and Cortex-A53 that are meant to be paired together in a big.LITTLE configuration. This is similar to what we have seen from NVIDIA and their Tegra 3 processor, both of which featured a unique 4-PLUS-1 architecture.
ARM describes the Cortex-A57 as the big brother and the Cortex-A53 as the little brother. The older brother says, “In big.LITTLE configurations I like to take it easy when I’m not needed and can be found napping most of the time in mobile applications, but when my teammate needs a hand I can be called upon immediately to complete the big performance threads in record time. When the job is done I go back to sleep. My little brother and I work perfectly together transferring tasks without any intervention in user space.”
One major advantage of moving to a 64-bit environment is the ability to support more than 4GB of physical memory. Most Android devices only have 2GB of RAM right now, but this will continue to grow with higher resolution displays and more demanding apps.
ARM describes their new Cortex-A50 family as the most advanced, high-performance application processor ever. The enhanced processing power will allow full HD video processing, enable a full laptop experience with wireless accessories, replace your game console and deliver all the compute capability a typical consumer needs.
Who will be first with A50?
Most of the big ARM licensees are moving to custom CPU architectures, so it’s tough to say who will be first with a mobile chip based on A50. Both Apple and Qualcomm already design their own CPU cores, and NVIDIA and Samsung are also moving in that direction. Texas Instruments has been a big supporter of the reference ARM designs, but even their OMAP division is facing uncertainty.
Two years is a long time in the mobile industry, so it’s really tough to predict what will happen. Intel still claims their x86 process technology is 2 years ahead of the rest of the industry, so it will be interesting to see what happens in 2014.