ARM unveils new chip design

Cambridge-based ARM has introduced a new processor that is expected to power a new generation of mobile phones. The company claims that the new Cortext-A8 can deliver up to 2000 DMips and for the first time puts a mobile phone chip in the same league as a desktop processor.

In contrast, the current Arm-9 processor that is found in the majority of today’s mid-range phones can only manage around 300DMips.

If realised, the breakthrough in mobile chip technology is likely to bring a whole new range of services to mobile phones such as high definition streamed video and games.

Although ARM does not build processors itself, its designs are said to be inside some 70 per cent of the world’s mobile phones. The company says it has already signed deals with five OEMs including Matsushita, Samsung and Texas Instruments.

The ARM Cortex-A8 processor is the first applications processor based on the ARMv7 architecture and is the highest performance, most power-efficient processor ever developed by ARM. Clock speeds range from 600MHz to greater than 1GHz. On a 65nm process, the chip consumes only 330mW of power. It also offers a size-configurable level 2 cache that works in conjunction with fast 16K or 32K level 1 caches.

Inside the processor itself are a number of features normally associated with desktop processors including a superscalar pipeline that can execute multiple instructions at the same time, 13-stage pipelines and dynamic branch prediction. It is also equipped with NEON signal processing extensions to accelerate media codecs such as MP3. It also offers TrustZone technology to enable secure transactions and Digital Rights Management (DRM).

On the 65nm process all this is squeezed into a core that measures less than 4mm2.

ARM says that it expects chips to begin production next year. Mobile phones and other devices built around the Cortex-A8 should start to appear in around 2008.

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