The old wisdom states that every journey begins with a single step, and it’s possible Apple’s tablet tale opened up yet another chapter on ARM’s morning announcement of its development of a new 2GHz, dual-core version of its Cortex-A9 architecture.
This 40-nanometre processor offers its high speed at impressively low power, which ARM pegs at 0.25-Watts per CPU. The product’s being aimed at the market for fast small home devices.
A December 2008 Computerworld article by our own Seth Weintraub predicts Apple’s tablet will be based on ARM’s Cortex architecture.
Now, we know ARM licenses its chip designs to others for manufacture. And we also know Apple’s former PA Semi engineers are expert at tweaking ARM processor designs to yield even more bang for the buck.
"This is a huge departure from what we’ve done in the past", Eric Schorn, vice president, marketing for ARM’s processor division, told ZDNet UK. "We really wanted to take off the handcuffs and see what could be done with performance, performance, performance."
"The sweet spot for most customers is dual-core," Schorn added, "but the base design can go up to quad-core and some partners are already building those. Eight way is coming. Everyone’s high-end roadmap is putting down more cores, and we do that. We’re headed in the direction of Intel’s mainstream processors. We have other plans that surpass the current performance, and we’ll intercept Intel in a high-margin area, not just with Atom."
Now the story gets more interesting, for example, we know Apple uses a chip based on a former ARM Cortex reference design inside the iPhone 3GS. And ARM tells us it expects processors to ship to partners in the fourth quarter of 2009.
As ZDnet adds, the growing netbook and mobile market is also in the sights of the processor producer. "If you look at the high end of embedded systems, netbooks and the like, there’s not much innovation relative to the mobile phone area. We want to take the rate of change of mobile phone design and innovation into other areas. Consumers will see a lot more diversity at a lot faster pace," said Schorn.
ARM’s new chip has another feature – it’s not compatible with Windows 7.
A second chip based on ARM’s design will also be made available. This consumes half a Watt of power and operates at 800MHz. The first products using these chips will appear next year, the company said.
Should Apple choose to use either design in a future or in development product, it will license the design, then adapt it, plugging in other components and applying its PA Semi expertise.
Incidentally, these processors can run things like Adobe Flash, Air, and Firefox, which older generation ARM devices can’t do.
We anticipate that in terms of power and performance, these new processors could deliver the kind of easy action Apple’s going to want to offer customers in a future mobile product, perhaps a tablet, a device that was most recently predicted to make its debut in February last year.