ARM processor pushes envelope of mobile computing power

ARM unveiled a new quad-core 2.5Ghz Cortex A15 processor with vastly improved capabilities

ARM announced its next-generation processor, the Cortex A15. Just days after Samsung revealed plans for a dual-core Cortex A9, the 2.5Ghz quad-core A15 steals the thunder and ups the ante for mobile computing power.

The ARM site describes the new processor "The ARM Cortex-A15 MPCore processor delivers unprecedented processing capability, combined with low power consumption to enable compelling products in a wide range of new and existing ARM markets ranging from mobile computing, high-end digital home, servers and wireless infrastructure."

ARM also explains that the underlying architecture is the same as that used in a dominant share of smartphones and other mobile devices today. "This enables immediate access to an established developer and software ecosystem including Android, Adobe Flash Player, Java Platform Standard Edition (Java SE), JavaFX, Linux, Microsoft Windows Embedded, Symbian and Ubuntu, along with more than 700 ARM Connected Community members providing applications software, hardware and software development tools, middleware and SoC design services."

Smartphones and tablets built around faster and more powerful processors will drive more rapid mainstream adoption of mobile devices as primary computing platforms. Tablets are already poised to threaten the extinction of netbooks, but tablets running 2.5Ghz quad-core processors could raise the bar and set the sights on taking out notebooks as well.

With the Cortex A15 processor, ARM is introducing new technologies that enable hardware virtualization, the ability to address up to 1Tb of memory, and error correction capabilities that allow for improved fault tolerance. While expanding the functionality, increasing the number of processor cores, and boosting the performance of the Cortex processor line, ARM manages to maintain the power efficiency that mobile devices require in order to deliver the battery life that users demand.

The low power consumption and improved power and capabilities of the Cortex A15 also make a more compelling case for using the ARM processor to power some traditional servers as well--treading into Intel territory. It's only fair, though, since Intel is hard at work developing smaller and more efficient Atom processors to challenge ARM in the mobile device arena.

Devices built on the Cortex A15 will probably not be generally available until sometime in late 2012, so the dual-core Cortex A9 will still be the primary engine behind mobile devices for the foreseeable future. But, with a quad-core 2.5Ghz powerhouse on the horizon, rival chipmakers will need to scramble to develop comparable mobile processors and keep up with the pace set by ARM.

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Tony Bradley

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