British semiconductor firm, ARM, offered a first look at what mobile chips on smartphones will look like in 2022 and beyond. The company announced the ARM Cortex-X2, Cortex-A710 and the Cortex-A510 chips, which will become the blueprint for processors that run on smartphones, smart home devices, and possibly even laptops that come in 2022. The new chips are part of the ARM v9 architecture, announced earlier this year, and is the first time in over a decade that ARM has upgraded its core designs.
ARM’s name may not be as popular as Qualcomm, MediaTek, Apple or Samsung, but the company is actually the primary driver of chip design in the world. The company provides the base design for the powerful chips we see on smartphones and many other devices today. Qualcomm’s custom Kryo architecture (which run on Snapdragon chips), Samsung’s Mongoose (running on Exynos chips), and even Apple’s Bionic chips (which are used for its iPhone processors and the new Apple M1 PC processor), are all based on ARM’s designs.
The company offers different licenses for its intellectual property (IP), which these companies use to make their own custom architecture. The Cortex-X2 is the chip that will be part of ARM’s custom program this year, which perhaps makes it the most important of the lot. Qualcomm’s flagship chip for 2021, the Snapdragon 888, uses the current Cortex-X1 design from ARM, so it’s likely that future chips will use the Cortex-X2.
According to ARM, the Cortex-X2 will double the machine learning (ML) performance over the currency Cortex-X1 system, and 16% overall performance gains. The Cortex-A710, on the other hand, offers 30% performance gains over the Cortex-A78, its predecessor.
But perhaps a bigger update is the Cortex-A510, which is the first upgrade of its kind in four years. ARM invented a system called big.LITTLE, which is the architecture used by mobile chips the world over. It combines powerful performance clusters (or big cores) with efficiency oriented LITTLE cores, to make chips that strike the right balance for performance and power efficiency. Software is designed so as to use the big cluster for tasks that require lots of power, while efficiency cores are used for background processes and less resource intensive tasks.
While the Cortex-X2 and A710 will form the big clusters on future chips, the Cortex-A510 is the one meant for the LITTLE clusters. This one offers 30% performance improvement over its predecessor, the Cortex A55, and 20% battery efficiency. Essentially, more power with better battery life. Custom designs such as Qualcomm’s Kryo can theoretically build on this to enhance the results even more.
The big thing about ARM’s new chips is the fact that they’re based on a new v9 architecture. The company’s chips have become powerful enough over the years, not only to run on smartphones and laptops, but also supercomputers. In fact, ARM chips power the fastest supercomputer in the world today. Their usage is expected to increase significantly now, as companies such as Apple use ARM chips on their laptops, while Qualcomm, too, has designed PC chips based on ARM designs.
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