New roadmaps released this week from Arm detail the future of the company’s processor designs and show a shift in emphasis towards higher performance.
· These new cores (the building blocks of a CPU) will empower Android device makers and silicon providers like Samsung and Qualcomm to better compete with Apple.
· The new cores also enable competitive solutions for the notebook space targeting Intel Core-level performance. This should increase the opportunity to drive adoption of Arm-powered Windows devices.
Though less known than the likes of Apple, Samsung, or even Qualcomm, Arm is the company responsible for much of the intellectual property that powers mobile devices. Nearly all smart phones and tablets utilize Arm technology at some level and this is the primary reason SoftBank acquired Arm in 2016.
Arm announced last week a new processor core and a roadmap of future designs that aggressively target higher performance segments of the market. Arm is the leader in low-power, highly efficient chip design which led to its success in mobile, but as markets have shifted, the need for additional performance and upgraded user experiences became apparent.
The latest core is called the Cortex-A76, available today to silicon partners with end-user product availability predicted in late 2018 or early 2019. This core will allow the Android smart phone ecosystem to compete better with Apple and the iPhone.
Apple may lose its advantage
Apple is a customer of Arm and utilizes an “architecture license” that permits it to build its own custom cores and chips based on Arm IP. Apple has invested a tremendous amount of money and engineering to build its processors, starting with the Apple A6 used inside the iPhone 5 in 2012. It continued to iterate and advance its designs and today has a noticeable performance advantage compared to competing Arm-based chips.
Arm’s advancements with its most recent core will finally allow competing vendors to offer competitive performance and capability without needing to invest the resources individually. The flagship partners in the space, Qualcomm and Samsung, have been slowly falling behind Apple in performance and benchmarks and it appears that the Arm A76 will meet or exceed what Apple has built.
The direction that Arm has pivoted to could result in some fundamental changes to the mobile market and the relative positions of Apple, Samsung, and Qualcomm-based devices.
An impact on Intel too
This shift in direction for Arm will also have an impact on Intel and its battle for the notebook space. New, faster cores and processor designs will enable partners like Qualcomm and its Snapdragon line to battle Intel more directly, correcting up the largest complaint about the platform: performance.
Arm is targeting Intel directly with this new roadmap, telling a group of analysts and partners that it will offer Core i5-level performance (Intel’s mid-range processor) while maintaining the power efficiency that has provided the extended battery life benefits in early waves of Windows-on-Arm devices.
Intel might struggle to counter this attack as it continues to have problems with its new 10nm production capability. The delays in the manufacturing division of Intel have caused problems throughout the company’s portfolio but it is of particular importance when it comes to building chips with the characteristics necessary for low power devices.