ARM Cortex 64-bit Chips Designs Uncloaked

Tom Brewster is TechWeek Europe’s Security Correspondent. He has also been named BT Information Security Journalist of the Year in 2012 and 2013.

Fresh designs promise more power and more efficiency

British processor designer ARM has unveiled 64-bit processor designs as it attempts to expand its reach in the smartphone and server markets.

The new ARM Cortex chips, based on the ARMv8 architecture announced in 2011, can either be used on their own, as System-on-Chip models in clients such as smartphones, or can be combined across servers for parallel processes across servers. They are updates on older Cortex processor designs, such as the A15 (pictured) and the A7.

That’s where companies running massively scalable data centres play and ARM believes its highly efficient designs will gain it followers in that market.

ARM Cortex combined

ARM lets companies shove both chips on the same die with what it calls the “big.LITTLE” implementation. It allows companies the luxury of choosing which chip to use when running heavy or light workloads.

Both designs are also interoperable with the ARM Mali GPU designs. They can also run 32-bit code, but won’t work with 32-bit operating systems.

“This will deliver an era of transformational computing, from mobile through to the infrastructure and servers that support consumers’ connected, mobile lifestyles. This will create massive opportunities for market expansion and a revolution in user experiences,” said Simon Segars, executive vice president, processor and physical IP divisions at ARM.

The ARM Cortex-A50 processors come in two different forms. The first is the Cortex-A57, which AMD has already selected for its Opteron server chips.

The A57 can offer “performance comparable to a legacy PC,  while operating in a mobile power budget”, according to ARM. It also offers optional cryptographic acceleration to speed up authentication software by up to ten times, the British firm claimed.

Then there is the A57’s sibling, the Cortex-A53, which uses less power that its bigger brother. According to ARM, it’s the world’s smallest 64-bit processor too.

Both could feature in phones and servers. ARM already has a strong grip on the mobile market, with its designs featured in many of the most-used smartphones and tablets, including the iPhone and the iPad. But Intel’s x86 architecture is still dominant in the server space.

A number of major tech vendors have given their backing to ARM servers, including Dell, which last week donated an ARM server concept to the Apache Software Foundation (ASF), in the belief that the open source community will help develop and promote the model.

Licensees of the new  Cortex processor series include AMD, Broadcom, Calxeda, HiSilicon, Samsung and STMicroelectronics. It is unlikely they will be shipping anything until 2014, however.

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