Arm, the influential developer of mobile processors, wants your Android phone to run faster – and maybe your ultra-light Windows laptop.
On Thursday, the company announced a new-generation chip, the Cortex-A76, which is said to be 35 percent faster than today's models when it arrives in 2019 handsets. That's a big leap for a year, and maybe enough to make Android phones with arm processors better suited to Apple's iPhones.
"We think we are around the corner compared to the overall performance curve," Rene Haas, president of Arms intellectual property group, said at a news conference in San Francisco on Thursday. He promised "laptop class performance" and said that it should compete with Intel's high-end Core i7 models.
Arm was actually co-founded by Apple in 1990 and designed the chips in Apple's Newton personal digital assistant. Apple's A processors, such as the A11 Bionic model in the iPhone X and iPhone 8, are now being developed by Apple itself, but they use the arm language, a command set. However, the vast majority of Android phones use chips from companies such as Qualcomm and MediaTek, which not only use Arm's instruction set, but also its fully integrated chip designs.
These Android arm chips do not fit Apple's performance, though. In the Geekbench Speed test, which compares the chip performance of Android devices with Apple devices, Apple is clearly ahead. A faster chip not only helps Android, but also two other Apple's competitors, Microsoft's Windows and Google's Chrome OS, which use arm chips in low-power laptops.
"Apple is currently leading a raw CPU performance that is impressive," said Patrick Moorhead, analyst at Moor Insights and Strategy. "Arm acceleration of the designs is a big deal, as it targets Windows 10 PCs and Chromebooks."
Speed Boost for Cell Phones and Laptops
How will Arm's in-house designs compete with those of Apple? "I expect to do well against Apple," said Mike Filippo, Arm's leading processor architect.
But he was clear which company Arm considered his primary rival. "Our true competition is Intel," he said.
"We are building on sustainable performance," said Filippo. "The A76 is the biggest jump we have made in our annual roadmap since our launch in 2014."
The 35 percent speed boost is a minimum, Filippo said. Some math tasks are increased by 50 percent to 70 percent, and high-performance software that requires fast memory access should receive 60 percent to 95 percent for retrieving that data, he added. The performance improvements vary, depending on which speed test is used, he warned, adding that Arm had used SPECint for a 35 percent boost in performance.
The Cortex-A76 has about the power of today's Intel Core i5-7300, so Filippo. Configured with more cache memory, it should compete with an i7 chip, he said.
One of the reasons for the new chip design is that it can accommodate more instructions in parallel – four instead of three, he said. The chip design also accelerates memory communications and improves its ability to respond to forthcoming processing instructions.
"This is a brand new microarchitecture," a design that's four years in the making, Filippo said. "We put an insane focus on making every transistor we put into this design pay for itself in terms of performance."
Microsoft is a big fan and hopes that the arm chips will run laptops "Turn on quickly, connect to mobile networks, offer a battery life of 20 hours – and you always have still enough power. "
"It's the next generation PC that combines the best of both worlds," said Matt Barlow. Microsoft's Corporate Vice President, who leads Windows Marketing. "It just changes the way you work, you can go on a two-day business trip and leave that power cord at home."
Performance was a weak point for today's arm-based laptops. CNET's review of the HP HP Envy x2, for example, concludes that the processor is "just not strong enough".
Performance should double with Cortex-A76 laptops compared to today's laptops, Haas said. These use a processor based on a latest-generation design, the Cortex-A73.
One reason why Apple is leading the arm-chip universe is that it is ready to build more expensive processors with more circuitry, which it can afford. The profit margins for the iPhone and iPad are good enough for the additional ones To absorb costs, Moorhead said. Another reason is that Apple stores better data in the on-chip cache itself for fast access instead of having to wait for the main memory of the device.
No advantage is insurmountable for a rival device maker willing to pay the price. Believe Moorhead. And indeed he expects a better memory technology from conventional arm designs.
New Arm Graphics Skills
Arm also announced two companion chips, the Mali G76 graphics processor and the Mali V76 video chip. The graphics chip offers a 30 percent acceleration, something that game developers should welcome, and the video chip can display super high 8K resolution, Arm said.
Google, who tested the chips in its Virtual Daydream products, is impressed. "We have console graphics with the G76," said Rahul Pradad, Product Manager Daydream, at the press conference.
With the Cortex-A76 arm began with a new design, and the improvements are continued with his successors, said Filippo.
"The A76 is a monster, and it's just a start," he said. "You can expect us to have a discussion of this kind in a year and two years."
First published on May 31, 12 o'clock. PT.
Update, 1:09 p.m.: illustrates Arm's position relative to Apple's performance. Update, 1:43 p.m.: Adds more details about the chip performance. Correction, 1:16 pm PT : This story has misrepresented the name of the new chip generation. It is the Cortex-A76.
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