Peter Clarke looks at whether the A15 processor core can help ARM break into PC applications. He points out that client and server needs are converging while A15 is not one processor but a broad set of potentialities. "Hey guys, this could work."
LONDON – The Cortex-A15 'Eagle' processor announcement from announcement from ARM is set to help the company secure its position in next-generation mobile clients and make in-roads against its rivals in some high-margin applications. Indeed ARM's A15 processor could be described as a cloud on Intel's cloud computing horizon.
The A15 processor is due to appear in silicon in time to be in products for the holiday-buying season of 2012, said Eric Schorn, vice president of marketing for ARM processors. And it has been received pretty well by analysts and journalists, although there has been some skepticism about whether one design can span the applications from smartphone to server.
ARM executives have stressed the power saving efforts that have been made while achieving a five-fold performance increase. At the same time a migration to 32/28-nm should yield a maximum clock frequency of 2.5-GHz. Didier Scemama, head of European Technology Research for Royal Bank of Scotland observed: "This performance improvement will allow ARM to address more applications where previously it lacked the horsepower: PC-centric applications such as computing (including low-end servers); and wireless infrastructure products in basestations and routers. In smartphones, the Cortex-A15 further pushes the performance envelope which will likely encourage smartphone chip makers to adopt the Cortex-A15 in next-generation products."
More details can be found in our original coverage of the ARM soiree-launch here, but I wanted to highlight a few details: Firstly, single-cored versions of A15 are expected to deliver five times the performance at about the same power budget of the current generation of ARM cores, A8 and A9.
Secondly that the A15 through its use of the Amba-4 bus has many-cored potential. It is not just a question of supporting 4 or 8 cores; it can support multiple four-cored clusters. Thirdly, that A15 is both a client and a server play.
That last point might seem confusing to some, particularly if they have become used to different processor architectures and sets of players in the phone, netbook and networking processor sectors. The nay-sayers could argue that, if anything, history is showing a trend towards application-specificity and diversification.