Arm plans to add multithreading to chip design

Multithreading should first go into the company's network processors

Arm plans to add multithreading capabilities to future architectures as it tries to boost the performance of its processors, a company representative said on Tuesday.

The company is looking to include multithreading capabilities depending on application requirements in different segments, said Kumaran Siva, segment marketing manager at Arm, at the Linley Tech Processor conference in San Jose, California.

Arm develops processor designs, which it then licenses to chip makers. Arm-based chips go into most of world's smartphones, and the company is trying enter new areas that include servers, networking and telecommunications. The company did not include multithreading in the Cortex-A15 processor core, which was announced this month, and can perform up to five times faster than its predecessors.

Multithreading is a way to run multiple threads on a single processor core to boost application performance. Calculations can be broken up over multiple threads to yield quicker results.

Intel's laptop and desktop processors use multithreading. IBM and Sun have also included multithreading capabilities in chips.

Arm has to add multithreading, especially as the company adds more cores and goes into areas like servers, where computers run more calculations, said Jack Gold, principal analyst at J. Gold Associates.

"They have no choice but to move to multithreading. Of course, they then have to get the various OSes to take full advantage of the multithreading, but I think that would happen easily," Gold said.

Multithreading capabilities also help manage multiple cores and virtualized environments efficiently, Gold said.

"They have to remain competitive, and Intel enables multithreading, so ARM must as well," Gold said.

Siva said Arm will consider multithreading depending on how it designs processors for different market segments. The initial implementation could be in processors for the networking space, Siva said.

"We're looking at how we can address certain markets in the networking space that could potentially use multithreading in a way that is more beneficial," Siva said.

Multithreading will help network processors crunch data faster and do a more efficient job of addressing memory for networking applications, Siva said. Network processors are responsible for packet processing as data moves over a network.

Siva declined to comment on whether multithreading would reach Arm's mobile processors. But mobile devices rarely implement multithreading, and most mobile phones run either single-threaded applications or include multiple cores to run tasks simultaneously.

The company did not include multithreading in the Cortex-A15 design as the benefits didn't justify the cost, Siva said. Shifting from a single-threaded architecture to a multithreaded design also has heavy implications on software development.

"From our point of view it has a lot of unfortunate implications from a software development and software maintenance point of view. Let's say you design your code for a multithreaded microarchitecture; it's hard to migrate that in the future," Siva said.

The company declined to comment on when it will release new processor designs.

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