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ARM reveals its latest line of 64bit big-little processors

Posted: 02 Nov 2012 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:big-little processors? 64bit? Cortex A53? Mali graphics IP? A57?

ARM, processor IP licens ('licence' when noun)or, has recently disclosed details of its next generation of big-little processors that support 64bit processing and addressing. The Cortex A53 and A57 processors have been announced to target 20nm implementation.

Simon Segars, ARM's executive vice president and general manager of the processor and physical IP divisions, provided the details during a keynote talk at the ARM TechCon conference and exhibition.

Segars also announced six partners working with ARM on Cortex-A50-series processors but did not identify which partners are working on A57, A53 or future processor cores. The partners are: AMD, Broadcom, Calxeda, HiSilicon, Samsung and STMicroelectronics. They are expected to ship Cortex-A50 series-based chips in 2014.

The A57 and A53 processors support the ARMv8 64bit instruction set and are intended to be used in both mobile and enterprise applications. The A57 and A53 were previously codenamed Atlas and Apollo, respectively.

As a big-little combination the processor cores are expected to be used in future "superphones" as well as in some server applications. The big-little approach leverages core pairs optimised for both performance and power efficiency and allows the cores to shift the processing load. The approach can produce more power efficient processing while delivering peak performance.

ARM's Simon Segars describes the future of computing, from enterprise to mobile, during ARM TechCon.

However, the A53 "little" processor on its own can provide enough performance for entry-level smartphones while also being used in multi-processing configurations, said Peter Greenhalgh, lead architect on the A50-series processors.

The A57 and A53 processors will target multi-GHz performance for advanced CMOS and FinFET processes technologies, which are supported by the early availability of ARM Artisan Physical IP and ARM optimisation packages for core-hardening acceleration.

The Cortex-A57 is expected to provide about three times the performance of current superphone platforms in 32bit mode, Greenhalgh and Segars said. The A57 also is being touted as providing five times the power efficiency for future tablets and notebooks, taking into account the benefits of process node scaling. It also features enhanced floating-point performance, ARM said.

From servers to mobile clients
Segars stressed that the ARMv8 instruction set architecture also supports both the Aarch64 mode and an Aarch32 mode. The later provides compatibility with the 32bit ARMv7 instruction set.

ARM also is betting that security features will grow in importance across the range of applications it expects A57 and A53 to address. "TrustZone security features are present in ARMv7 and they have been carried forward in ARMv8. We have added instructions [in ARMv8] that will provide 10 times the encryption performance," said Greenhalgh.

Segars added that while the need for 64bit data and addressing may not yet be present in mobile client devices, ARM's partners are pressing for the capability as part of preparation for a changeover from 32- to 64bit processing. "That change is more rapid in enterprise applications and somewhat slower in mobile," he said.

The overwhelming need for more memory is only growing. ARM's software partners are supporting the requirement with an announcement from Redhat and the fact that a 64bit Linux kernel is available to developers, Segars said.

As expected, the A57 and A53 make use of the CCN-504 cache coherency networking IP and Amba bus interfaces licenced by ARM. It is compatible with ARM's Mali graphics IP.

ARM expects to have processor silicon in house sometime as early as mid-2013. "Although ARM partners will usually beat to us to silicon,"�Greenhalgh added.

- Peter Clarke
??EE Times

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