While most of media ended up surprised after learning that Palm Pre and Apple iPhone 3G S use the same dual-core Cortex-A8 SoC processor, the real battle will only come next year.
ARM plans to aggressively fight off any challengers in the mobile arena, especially with the arrival of x86 instruction set in a form of Intel Medfield all-in-one processor. Intel is no stranger, and with nVidia looking to be ARM’s largest customer with Tegra, ARM knew it has to pull off something special. The answer is Cortex-A9 core, available as a single-, dual- and quad-core design. The processor features a superscalar execution pipeline with a NEON SIMD multimedia instruction set, capable of performing up to 16 operations per single instruction. The Integrated Memory Management Unit is very similar to the architecture deployed by large desktop and notebook processors, but in a portable form.
Given the mobile nature of the part, Jazelle is used for Java execution, TrustZone security extensions bring features such as SIM card lock. Floating-Point performance is for instance – doubled when compared to Cortex A8, e.g. roughly three times faster than ARM11 design, currently the most widespread ARM design out there.
What makes the matters interesting is that ARM estimates that a single core [excluding cache] is around 1.46mm2, meaning that a quad-core processor is doable inside the 20mm2 die size, all while using 65nm process. If the manufacturers deploy 45nnm, 40nm, 32nm or even 28nm, the die size of the complete quad-core chip would be less than current dual-core ARM Cortex-A8 powered phones, e.g. iPhone 3G S and the Pre.
We expect to see both iPhone 3G v3 and iPhone 4G, Palm Pre 2 – all based on Samsung or Texas Instruments quad-core Cortex-A9 processors. When it comes to Nokia, we are going to address that company in a separate article, since the Finnish giant is currently re-considering their hardware strategy. Their biggest competitor, Research-in-Motion is poised to use Intel Medfield SoC processors, given the recent shift to Intel-based hardware [starting with Blackberry 9000 Bold].
Given the amount of challenges that phones in 2010 have to overcome [1080p video, gaming, the dawn of 4G LTE connections, the dawn of Internet TV via LTE, Wireless Bluetooth], we were not surprised to see a quad-core design for smartphones.
Texas Instruments OMAP 4 and nVidia 2nd Gen Tegra SoC processors are the only currently known dual-core designs using A9 core, but those designs feature an integrated PowerVR SGX540, e.g. GeForce 9-based graphics subsystem. According to information at hand, there is also Quad-Core design in the works.
It looks like GlobalFoundries just might get that key first order from a non-AMD/ATI related company… our money is on ARM architecture.