Fierce smartphone rivalry driving faster chip development, ARM CEO says

New mobile chips are now being developing at a yearly pace to line up with smartphone announcements

Smartphones using ARM-based chips.

Smartphones using ARM-based chips.

Heated competition in the smartphone and tablet markets has required chip makers to speed up the pace at which they release new processors, the CEO of ARM said in an interview this week.

Following in the footsteps of Apple, rivals like Samsung and HTC are upgrading their flagship devices on a near yearly basis, adding better displays, faster chips and more memory to entice customers into buying their products.

ARM designs the microprocessors used in most of those devices, and the increased competition means it's having to push out faster, more power-efficient chips at a quicker pace, CEO Simon Segars said Tuesday.

"We're always going to be looking to deliver more performance, make the best use of manufacturing technology ... and deliver better system-wide efficiency," he added.

ARM creates chip designs that it licenses to other companies such as Samsung, Apple and Qualcomm, who then tweak those designs for use in phones and tablets. A report last week said ARM is making rapid progress on its next major processor design, which could turn out to be the quickest design upgrade it's yet produced.

The new chip could be rolling off production lines by the end of next year and appearing in mobile gadgets soon after that, according to the report, from The Linley Group. That would mean it arrives just a year after its predecessor, the Cortex-A72, which was announced in March and is expected in devices at the end of this year.

The A72 also arrived sooner than expected, but it was a much-needed upgrade to its predecessor, the Cortex-A57. That chip was announced in 2012 and took two years to find its way into mobile devices -- perhaps twice as long as the current chips.

Segars declined to comment on specific plans for the newest chip, but he acknowledged that ARM has been accelerating its design efforts. That's possible partly because ARM has more CPU designers than it had in the past, he said.

Beyond the CPU itself, ARM is looking at ways to improve memory and to speed up data exchange between components, he said.

ARM's yearly upgrade cycle mirrors that of Apple, which releases new A-series chips for its iPhones on a similar 12-month schedule. Apple's new chips typically include upgrades for the CPU, connectivity and graphics components.

The tech industry has grown accustomed to the pace at which vendors upgrade PC lines, which happens every year to 18 months. ARM is meeting the demands of a smartphone industry that's heading toward a cycle of six months to one year, said Dean McCarron, principal analyst at Mercury Research.

The faster refresh cycle is the fruit of investments ARM made a few years back to help it stay ahead of Intel, its primary competitor, McCarron said. Intel's smartphone chips are used in only a few handsets, but two years ago the company said it would upgrade its mobile chips faster in an effort to break ARM's dominance.

Intel year released new Atom chips code-named Merrifield and Moorefield, and earlier this year it shipped chips code-named Sofia for low-end smartphones. The Sofia chips were made in conjunction with Chinese company Rockchip, which has experience turning around processor designs in a matter of months, McCarron said.

Next year Intel will ship a high-end Atom chip called Broxton, which has a modular design that allows Intel to modify the chip and deliver updates at a faster pace. Broxton supports Intel's larger plan to deliver products that can be customized more easily, making its model more similar to that of ARM.

For now, the intense competition has resulted in new chips coming to market more quickly, but designing and manufacturing chips is a complex business, and it remains to be seen how long the yearly upgrade cycle will continue.

Agam Shah covers PCs, tablets, servers, chips and semiconductors for IDG News Service. Follow Agam on Twitter at @agamsh. Agam's e-mail address is agam_shah@idg.com

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags intelprocessorshardware systemsComponentsArm Holdings

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Agam Shah

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Bang and Olufsen Beosound Stage - Dolby Atmos Soundbar

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

ASUS ROG, ACRONYM partner for Special Edition Zephyrus G14

Learn more >

Sony WF-1000XM3 Wireless Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

Nakamichi Delta 100 3-Way Hi Fi Speaker System

Learn more >

Family Friendly

Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit for Nintendo Switch

Learn more >

Philips Sonicare Diamond Clean 9000 Toothbrush

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

SunnyBunny Snowflakes 20 LED Solar Powered Fairy String

Learn more >

Teac 7 inch Swivel Screen Portable DVD Player

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Brand Post

Shining a light on creativity

MSI has long pushed the boundaries of invention with its ever-evolving range of laptops but it has now pulled off a world first with the new MSI Creative 17.

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Tom Pope

Dynabook Portégé X30L-G

Ultimately this laptop has achieved everything I would hope for in a laptop for work, while fitting that into a form factor and weight that is remarkable.

Tom Sellers

MSI P65

This smart laptop was enjoyable to use and great to work on – creating content was super simple.

Lolita Wang

MSI GT76

It really doesn’t get more “gaming laptop” than this.

Jack Jeffries

MSI GS75

As the Maserati or BMW of laptops, it would fit perfectly in the hands of a professional needing firepower under the hood, sophistication and class on the surface, and gaming prowess (sports mode if you will) in between.

Taylor Carr

MSI PS63

The MSI PS63 is an amazing laptop and I would definitely consider buying one in the future.

Christopher Low

Brother RJ-4230B

This small mobile printer is exactly what I need for invoicing and other jobs such as sending fellow tradesman details or step-by-step instructions that I can easily print off from my phone or the Web.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?