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ARM core reaches GHz rate

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

Keywords:ARM core? processor? x86? mobile?

Cortex vs. Atom
Comparing ARM Cortex A8 and Atom processors is no easy job.

"Cortex A8 is the highest performance ARM core, and Atom is the lowest power consumption x86, but they are still pretty far apart," said analyst Halfhill. "ARM is moving into the direction of higher performance while Intel is moving into lower power, and the current collision point seems to be netbooks and mobile Internet devices," he said.

"The initial Atom is still probably four times bigger in die area and consumes three times more power than a Cortex A8," said Linley Gwennap, principal of market watcher the Linley Group. "Atom probably is two or three times the performance of Cortex depending on what clock speed you are using, but it doesn't matter how fast it is if it doesn't fall into power budget of a smart phone," he added.

The two processors share a similar superscalar architecture although ARM's is 32bit wide compared to a 64bit width for Atom. The two have radically different instruction sets, although both support DSP-like extensions for media processing.

"Overall, I don't think architecturally there's a huge difference" between ARM and Atom, Halfhill said.

Gwennap predicted Intel will need both 32nm technology and major architectural changes to get Atom into the power budget of a smart phone. "That's another one or two generations down the road," he said.

"We know [Intel] can get to a GHz and beyond, but typically they quote their best power at 500MHz, so it's hard to do an apples-to-apples comparison," said Dave Shippey, VP of engineering at Intrinsity. "We think our power is much lower, and I am sure our leakage is lower because there is less silicon in an ARM implementation, but I don't have a direct comparison," he added.

An Intel spokeswoman admitted the company has yet to release specific numbers on Atom performance and power consumption. However, the company has said its next-generation Moorestown platform slated for a 2010 launch will have a 50-fold improvement in system-level idle power while cutting board size in half.

The 2011 Intel chip, Medfield, will sport further reductions in power and size "and will extend Intel solidly into smart phone segments," she added.

TI estimates Intel's Moorestown platform which consists of the Lincroft processor and a Langwell peripheral chip will consume an estimated 1.5W and take up 392 square millimeters of packaged chip space. By comparison, TI's single-chip OMAP3640 will consume 0.5W and take up 144 square millimeters, said Brian Carlson, a TI marketing manager.

In addition, TI will sample this fall an OMAP4 chip that puts two ARM Cortex A9 cores in the space of a single Atom core, he added.

"I've looked out to the 22nm node on both sides, and I still see a gapthe gap narrows, but I wouldn't say we are at parity," said Carlson. "The x86 will always have more transistors, and if they lose [transistors] they will lose software compatibility or performance," he said.

The Intel spokeswoman said the TI comparison was flawed on several fronts. It does not take into account video or graphics performance, and TI should compare current Atom Z-series parts to TI's current OMAP 3440, she said.

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