Chip designer ARM has released a new processor to drive the mid-range smartphone market by enabling high-end features at an affordable price point. Complementing the CPU is a new GPU and HD video processor optimised to work with it, ARM said.
Announced at Computex in Taiwan, the Cortex-A12 is intended to replace the venerable Cortex-A9 which has formed the basis of many of the chips in mid-range handsets for several years now.
Cortex-A12 will deliver a 40 percent performance lift for the same power consumption, ARM said, as well as support for a 1TB memory space, virtualisation and TrustZone support for security.
As with all ARM designs, it will be up to the firm's chipmaker partners such as Broadcom and Samsung to produce chips based on Cortex-A12. First silicon is due in early 2014, according to ARM, with shipping devices expected later the same year.
Clock speeds are expected to be in line with the latest Cortex-A9 or Cortex-A15 chips, according to ARM, which should be in the region of 2GHz.
ARM said it sees the mid-range market as a growth area for both smartphones and tablets, which it expects to account for over half a billion devices during 2015.
"Feature phones are kind of going away and the smartphone market is fragmenting into multiple segments with different price ranges," ARM's Stefan Rosinger, product manager for CPU products, told V3.
Mid-range buyers still want the latest features but are more price sensitive than those who insist on having the very latest high end device.
"They want to have the latest and greatest, but they are flexible to compromise on the specs because they need to fit a certain budget. They want the lot, but don't want to pay for it," he said.
To address this, the Cortex-A12 can be configured with one up to four cores, just like the Cortex-A9. However, in design it is closer to the Cortex-A15 in capabilities with expanded 40-bit addressing for up to 1TB of memory and hardware support for virtualisation.
The latter will allow for dual-persona smartphones for bring-your-own-device (BYOD) scenarios, according to Rosinger. Cortex-A12 also supports ARM's Trustzone security technology to enable secure payment applications as well as protecting digital content.
ARM's silicon partners will also be able to build system-on-a-chip (SoC) devices by combining the Cortex-A12 with a new Mali-T622 GPU and Mali-V500 video processor, designed to complement the new CPU in chips for smartphones and tablets.
The Mali-T622 is based on ARM's latest GPU architecture, unveiled last year, which delivers 50 percent energy efficiency over earlier implementations. It is specifically designed to bring high-end graphics functionality right down to the mid-range mass-market, ARM said, with OpenGL ES 3.0 and full Renderscript support. It can also be implemented with one or two shader cores.
Meanwhile, the Mali-V500 is the first in a line of HD video processors that ARM is set to release, according to Chris Porthouse, ARM Director of Market Development.
"We're seeing the need for hi-def encode and decode in both tablets and smartphones," he said. However, only tier one semiconductor firms have the resources to develop such capabilities, so ARM is stepping in to provide this for all licensees, he added.
The Mali-V500 is scalable in performance from one up to eight cores, where even a single core will deliver 1080p video at 60 frames per second (fps), with eight cores capable of encoding/decoding 4K video at 120fps, according to Porthouse.
Its design is optimised for low power consumption with a new technology called ARM frame buffer compression (AFBC) that will also be integrated into the firm's graphics chips in the near future. AFBC reduces the memory bandwidth by about 50 percent, which can cut the power needed to drive a 4K display from 600mw to 300mw, Porthouse said.
ARM is supporting all three products with its POP IP initiative, which delivers optimised implementations of the designs for specific chip processes, enabling smaller chip makers to go direct to third-party foundries to get their designs fabricated.
In this case, GlobalFoundries and TSMC can fabricate the Cortex-A12 on their respective 28nm processes, while the latter is also supporting the Mali-T622.
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