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Arm’s future CPU designs may finally catch up with Intel in laptops by 2020


Arm Holdings publicly disclosed its CPU road map for the first time on Thursday, August 16, covering chip designs that will be released through 2020. Typically, CPU makers keep these details under wraps in a non-disclosure agreement, but the company came forward with its plans to show how its CPU designs will advance the always-on, always-connected laptop experience.

Arm Holdings, or simply Arm, designs processor architectures that are separate from the x86-based versions used by Intel and AMD. These designs target high performance and a low power requirement, ideal for mobile devices. Arm licenses out these designs to Qualcomm, Samsung, Nvidia, and others.

Arm’s latest design is the Cortex-A76 processor core promising 35 percent more performance than its previous design. Introduced in May, the Cortex-A76 aims to deliver the same performance of a competing laptop-based processor but with a lower power draw suited for smartphones. The result is a laptop with 20 or more hours of battery life with no sacrifice in computing performance.

“[Cortex-A76] is the foundational CPU IP for the first 7nm SoCs expected to be in production later this year,” Arm states. “More importantly, Cortex-A76 represents the continuation of the trajectory that will increase performance at a staggering pace, enabling consumers to do more with their smartphones and level the performance playing field against mass-market laptop CPUs from the competition.”

Arm compares its Cortex-A76 design with Intel’s seventh-generation Core i5-7300U processor. Intel’s two-core chip, released at the beginning of 2017, has a base speed of 2.6GHz, a maximum speed of 3.5GHz, and draws a mere 15 watts of power on average. Arm projects that processors based on its Cortex-A76 design will hit 3GHz while drawing less than five watts of power.

The takeaway from this is that Arm’s design will supposedly be on par with Intel’s older chip, but at a lower power requirement. What is important to note is that Intel’s Core i5 processor targets laptops, not smartphones. Also, note that Arm doesn’t compare its design to Intel’s current eighth-generation chips.

But that is just part of Arm’s story. While chips based on the Cortex-A76 design will be released in 10nm and 7mn variants in 2018, Arm’s “Deimos” design targets 2019 using the 7nm process node. The company says this design will provide 15 percent or more increased performance than the just-launched Cortex-A76 design.

Part of Arm’s pitch includes what the company calls DynamicIQ. It’s a design that clusters up to eight processor cores together, enabling chipmakers to mix and match Arm-based CPU cores. For instance, one popular design is to use six low-performance cores to handle web browsing and Facebook trolling, and two high-performance cores to deal with gaming and other high-computational tasks. All eight cores are crammed into one chip.

DynamicIQ is part of Arm’s current Cortex-A76 design as well as 2019’s “Deimos” architecture and 2020’s “Hercules” design. According to Arm, this latter design will not only be based on 7nm and 5nm process nodes but improve “power and area efficiency by 10 percent.” That is on top of the performance gains provided by 5nm process technology, the company added.

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Kevin Parrish
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