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ARM core reaches GHz rate

Posted: 28 Jul 2009 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:ARM core? processor? x86? mobile?

Samsung Electronics Co. and Intrinsity Inc. have developed what they claim to be the first silicon for an ARM Cortex A8 that runs at a GHz and delivers more than 2,000 Dhrystone Mips while consuming 640mW power. The Hummingbird chip arrives at a time when ARM and Intel Atom processors are in increasing competition for an expanding market of mobile devices.

Currently ARM dominates the market for smart phones such as the Apple iPhone. Intel is gearing up its x86-based Atom chip to address that market although in its current form it still consumes as much as 2W at 2GHz, too much for cellphone handsets.

"The new personal computer is the thing you carry in your pocket that has communications capabilities and can browse the Internet," said Tom Halfhill, senior editor of the Microprocessor Report. "Both ARM and Intel know that, and they want to be in those devices," he said.

While average selling prices for processor are much lower in cellphones than PCs, volumes are significantly higher. Will Strauss of market watcher Forward Concepts estimates as many as 1.2 billion cellphones will be sold next year compared to about 300 million PCs.

Hummingbird is a natural follow on for today's Apple iPhone 3GS and the Palm Pre handsets using ARM Cortex A8 processors running at up to 600MHz from Samsung and Texas Instruments, respectively. Samsung has not commented on its plans for the new core.

Samsung and Intrinsity have booted OS and run customer applications on first silicon of Hummingbird which could be in production before the end of the year. Intrinsity provided custom circuit technology that powers the chip, built in a low power 45nm process.

The companies estimate Hummingbird consumes less than 0.75mW/MHz and power leakage is "in the single digits." Intrinsity said it has most of the technology needed to help other ARM licensees build similar processors.

"We have customers looking to put this part in a TSMC 40nm process, and we could have a part available in less than six months," said Bob Russo, CEO of Intrinsity. "We'll probably have the fastest [A8] part manufactured to date with the best megahertz per Watt and the lowest leakage," he claimed.

Intrinsity also is at work applying its proprietary circuit technology to other mobile processor designs across a variety of architectures. The projects generally target data rates of a GHz or beyond, and one design uses two cores.

"I don't see any end to the frequency race" for cellphones, said Russo.

Neither does Intel. The PC giant said it is designing a 45nm Atom called Lincroft aiming at next-generation mobile devices including smart phones. In 2011 it plans to release Medfield, a 32nm system-on-chip based around an Atom core.

"We are very excited about our 32nm generation of SoCs," said Gadi Singer who manages Intel's mobile processor operations and its SoC enablement group.

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