ARM expects 20-nanometer processors by late next year

The chips should enable longer battery life in smartphones and tablets

ARM chips made with an advanced, 20-nanometer manufacturing process could appear in smartphones and tablets by as soon as the end of next year, the head of ARM's processor division said Monday.

The more advanced chips should allow device makers to improve the performance of their products without reducing battery life, or offer the same performance with longer battery life.

"The whole industry is focused on moving to the next generation as soon as it's economically viable and technologically achievable," Simon Segars, general manager of the processor and physical IP divisions at ARM, told reporters at the Computex tradeshow in Taipei on Monday.

The nanometer figure refers to the dimension of circuits etched on the surface of the chips. Each new manufacturing process enables chips with smaller, less power hungry transistors, allowing device makers to extend battery life or offer better performance in mobile devices.

ARM doesn't manufacture the chips itself. It licenses its designs to companies such as Qualcomm, Texas Instruments and Nvidia, who in turn outsource manufacture of the chips to foundry companies like Taiwan's TSMC.

Qualcomm has said it faces shortages of its latest Snapdragon S4 processor, which is used in smartphones from HTC and tablets from Lenovo, among others. It blamed the problem on a shortage of 28-nanometer manufacturing capacity at TSMC.

That led some to see ARM's target for 20 nanometer parts as overly optimistic. But the problem with the 28-nanometer chips is a short-term capacity issue, not a technology issue, so ARM's target is a realistic one, said Dan Nystedt, vice president and head of research at TriOrient Investments in Taiwan.

Still, moving to a new manufacturing process is complex for any company and delays are always possible.

This year's Computex should be a big event for ARM. Microsoft has developed the first version of its Windows PC OS that runs on ARM-based processors, called Windows RT, and vendors are expected to show the first ARM-based tablets running the new software.

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