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ARM A15: A Game Changer

Written by JamieBennett on September 28th, 2010 at 11:26 pm in Android,Linaro,Linux,Maemo,Ubuntu

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ARM? Who are they?

ARM are a humongous company, not so much in employee numbers and site buildings, but in the number of actual products that their technology comes to market with. From a seemingly small number of incredibly smart people comes a sales figure of nearly 3 ARM chips for every man, woman and child on the planet, a huge feat that, with recent partnership announcements, and rumors galore, is only going to get bigger.

ARM shares have gone from a level of just over 135 this time last year to well over 400 today and with ARM’s Q3 2010 Earnings release due Oct 26th, I’m sure we will see continued growth. But why all the fuss?

ARM has been around for a long time. Smartphones, set-top boxes, even a robot or two so what is going so right for ARM lately? Well their deal with Apple for the strangely named A4 (cleverly stripped Cortex-A8, ARMv7-A core) which went into the iPad, iPhone, iPod, Apple TV, and is now the corner-stone of Apples iOS solutions has helped, a deal with Microsoft, dozens of ARM based Android phones, and the odd Maemo/MeeGo phone helps. But now we have a new era. A time where ARM are moving out of their comfort zone and competing with the likes of Intel and AMD on performance, but this time doing it with an eye to power consumption. There are a lot of exciting things going on at ARM, not to mention their huge focus on Linux with Linaro, but their recent announcement of the ARM A15 architecture got me excited more than others.

Low Powered, Multi-Core, High Performance

The A15 is billed as having:

Unprecedented levels of performance, power-efficiency, and technology leadership

and reading the technical specs one can only wonder what is in store for this architecture. Some of the highlights include:

    • Up to 2.5Gz clock speed
    • Chip fabrication down to 28nm
    • Address up to 1TB of memory
    • Hardware Virtualisation
    • Single to Quad core (and beyond) configurations
    • Suitable for everything from phones to servers

Possibilities

So looking at the specifications, where is this chip likely to land? Well, its not quite that easy to guess as the processor itself is so versatile. If one were to attempt a guess one could hypothesise that we will see at least phones and netbooks but more importantly tablets, laptops, and servers. The last three, maybe four are new to ARM. But a chip so capable has its uses.

    • For netbooks and laptops, a more powerful CPU is essential. Couple this with low power consumption and an increasingly powerful user experience from Ubuntu, Linaro and other Linux distributions equates to a great portable laptop device.
    • Tablets are the new buzz word. Android is the main contender to Apple at the moment although RIM have just announced their PlayBook and HP cannot be discounted with their acquisition of PALM and WebOS. If its not an Apple device then its most likely to be Linux based (unless its the QNX RIM tablet) and what better way to utilise that than to use a flavour that is highly optimised for ARM based Linux devices.
    • Servers are uncharted territory for ARM. Quietly, bubbling up amongst the tech crowd is the notion that vast arrays of hot, expensive to run, power-hungry x86 based servers could be replaced by cold, cheap, powerful ARM servers. For a company who pays millions (upon millions) of dollars for a server farm, saving money on both climate control to cool servers and their electricity bill is huge news. Couple that with the fact that ARM servers could be cheaper to purchase and you get a lot of buzz in this area. One such company that caught this curve early was SmoothStone. Expect to see a huge uptake in the interest of ARM based servers in the coming 12 months.

Conclusion

ARM based devices are ubiquitous, just like Linux. You may of not of even heard of ARM, just like you may not of heard of Linux, but making a phone call or searching on Google means you could already using their respective technologies.

ARM, just like Linux, is a quiet pioneer, prevalent in the background just waiting for the opportunity to become mainstream. Whether mainstream is the goal, prevalence most definitely is on the agenda.

5 Responses to 'ARM A15: A Game Changer'

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  1. what do the other cell phones run on?

    example

    29 Sep 10 at 10:17 am

  2. Dragonball, PowerPC , and now we are about to see Intel based phones. Newer phones at the moment will more than likely have an ARM chip though.

    Jamie Bennett

    29 Sep 10 at 11:38 am

  3. Looks like ARM is the only part of the old Acorn Computing to make a profit and become a company known worldwide.

    Shame none of the new chips will be running RISC OS.

    Mark

    29 Sep 10 at 12:20 pm

  4. I’m curious about the Google reference. I though they were using x86 for their servers?

    Marius Gedminas

    29 Sep 10 at 1:03 pm

  5. ARM is also used for many embedded controllers, for USB drives, SD cards, NICs, WLAN chips, etc. Really everywhere. Though some use MIPS, homebrew, 8 bit (seems some chinese MP3/MP4 players run on a many-MHz Z80).

    I have no clue what the firmware of a hard drive runs on, but it is a lot of code, has its own OS (the 1TB seagate drives that broke due to a bug could be revived by connecting a serial cable to a console connector…) and thus needs a good compiler. Which probably means GCC.

    Thomas

    29 Sep 10 at 7:45 pm

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