updated 02:10 pm EDT, Wed October 19, 2011
ARM Cortex-A7 promises speed in sub-100 phones
ARM chose Wednesday to reveal a new mobile processor design that could make possible smartphones under $100 that still have real performance. Cortex-A7 MPCore borrows some of the optimizations from the A15 and rolls them into a budget design. Although it's a fifth the size of the older Cortex-A8 at 0.5mm square and five times more power efficient, speed is "significantly greater" and closer to that of a higher-end $500 phone, ARM argued.
The optimizations are embodied in a concept called Big.Little, which uses asymmetric processing to juggle tasks. The "little" core, the regular A7, runs the underlying OS and lightweight tasks like messaging or music, while a "big" core works on high-end tasks. An A7 MPCore chip can juggle apps between chips with very little lag, under 20 micro seconds.
Initial A7 MPCore chips will be built on a 28 nanometer process and aren't expected to be in shipping hardware until 2013. The A15 ships in 2012. Some of the known initial partners include those making or supporting the chips themselves, such as Broadcom, Freescale, Linaro, ST-Ericsson, and Texas Instruments, as well as companies likely to use it, such as LG, RIM's QNX, and Samsung. Sprint is also onboard.
The architecture could be important for the "next billion people," ARM said, by making smartphones inexpensive enough that those in developing countries can afford them, including from companies that don't normally target these audiences. Android has usually been the choice for these regions, but Apple CEO Tim Cook said he hoped Apple could tap into the other 1.5 billion cellphones bought each year.