ARM announces Atom killer, goes for Intel's jugular
9/17/2009 by: John Oram
ARM recently announced the development of two Cortex-A9 hard macro for the TSMC 40nm-G [general purpose, as opposed to the conventional low power - 40nm-L] process. This is almost the identical process used by nVidia and AMD for several of their 40nm parts [majority of GPUs uses 40nm-P, high performance node]. They claim the clock speed can be in excess of 2GHz.
ARM is aiming their dual-core Cortex-A9 design directly at Intel's Atom which currently owns the netbook marketplace. ARM is still facing the hurdle of not having Microsoft's Windows XP or Windows 7 as operating system choices. Their CPUs can run Windows CE, Windows Mobile, Linux, Android, Symbian, and other proprietary real time operating systems for embedded products. What makes the situation potentially worse for Microsoft is the fact that Qualcomm and nVidia are pushing their smartbook designs to telecom operators and that might potentially limit the success of Windows 7-based netbooks.
ARM Cortex-A9 Microarchitecture - this is how a single A9 core looks like.
When Google introduced Chrome they said it would run on both x86 as well as ARM chips and they were working with multiple OEMs to bring a number of netbooks to market next year.
Nandan Nayampally, director of CPU marketing at ARM said that the latest processor is an attempt by ARM to show that it can raise clock speeds if needed. The dual-core ARM processor while running at 2GHz consumes mere 1.9 Watts of power and that is nowhere near the highest clock achievable by the architecture. The processor delivered better performance than Intel's Atom N270 netbook chip operating at 1.6GHz, according to benchmarks provided by ARM.
The Cortex-A9 power-optimized hard macro implementation delivers its peak performance of 4000 DMIPS while consuming less than 250mW per CPU when selected from typical silicon. Nayampally said that in netbooks, Cortex-A9 chips would draw close around 500 to 600 Milliwatt for dual-core chip operating at 1GHz. The company already has 15 partners including TI, Toshiba, nVidia and Samsung, and devices with chips based on the Cortex A9 design could appear as early as the first half of next year - read public launch during Mobile World Congress in February 2010.
Eric Schorn, VP marketing, Processor Division, said that the processors would work with new designs for photocopiers, computers, netbooks, printers, consumer electronics devices, servers and portable media devices.
For instance, Apple's iPhone use the ARM Cortex A-8 based processorfrom Samsung. The Palm Pre & Pixi use the ARM Cortex A-8 basedprocessor from TI. So an upgrade to the Cortex-A9 should be on theirrespective roadmaps. But, would they put the newly developed multicoreversions in?
Of course they will - according to informationat hand, there are more than a dozen smarphone designs using Cortex-A9processor in dual-core mode. Also, we cannot confirm the model, but welearned of a prototype smartphone-sized motherboard utilizing aquad-core design coming from the largest company in cellphone business.
There is a YouTube video showing VMWare running on a Nokia N800 Internet Tablet with both Windows Mobile 6.0 and Android. This is pretty amazing considering the ARM processor is the TI OMAP 2420, which is clocked at only 330MHz. That makes you wonder what could be done with the Cortex-A9 MP running at 2GHz in a similar power envelope. This was also a clear demonstration of the advantages of 40nm process when compared to 90nm and 65nm, in which majority of today's ARM-powered chips are manufactured.
From Poqet_PC to Palm's netbook and smartphone, ARM certainly made a long way
ARM's Cortex-A9 MPCore was designed for more expensive devices like netbooks (a.k.a. Minilaptops in Asia). Rumors about Apple launching a $600 to $1,000 small form factor laptop have been swirling about for the past year. In July, the Chinese publication InfoTimes said it would arrive in October. Some analyst predict instead of a netbook, that Apple will launch a competitor to Amazon's second-generation e-reader, Kindle DX.
The small form factor keyboarding devices can be traced back to the PoqetPC from 1989 and HP 95LX from 1991. In 2005 - 2006 small-form factor fully-functional laptops were becoming more than just a super-expensive novelty in the western world. At the same time, subnotebooks, as they were called were all at rage in the Far East.
But the dawn of today's netbooks and smartbooks comes from professor Nicholas Negroponte and his One Laptop per Child project at MIT was getting ready to launch. It used the AMD Geode LX700@0.8 W. The laptop is still manufactured by the Taiwanese computer company Quanta Computer.
Intel took much of their R&D on the Classmate PC, formerly known as Eduwise, and got to work with ASUS and Microsoft. At the 2007 IDF – San Francisco they announced their big push into Atom powered-netbooks.
Then there was the failed Palm Foleo. It was announced in May 2007. The Foleo was initially reported to run a modified Linux kernel. The kernel was reported as being version 2.6.14-rmk1-pxa1-intc2 ["rmk1" indicates this is the ARM architectural version, "pxa1" indicates it is of the PXA family of Intel/Marvell Technology Group XScale processors, "inct2" is possibly an IRQ handler]. On August 7, 2007, Palm announced that it had chosen Wind River Systems to help it customize the standard Linux kernel to make it more suitable for this device. The Foleo was abruptly canceled in September 2007. The Foleo's problems were many fold, including an early Linux OS for small devices, tethered only to the Palm Treo, average graphics, no WiFi, and no 3G mobile communications capabilities.
Clearly Palm's Foleo was doomed because it was not equal to the competition from Intel – Microsoft – ASUS Eee. But with very little R&D the Foleo's basis design could be updated with Palm's webOS, the Cortex-A9 MP CPU, 1080P graphics, and the Pixel Qi screens which use ½ to ¼ the power of conventional screens yet give higher resolution. Clearly ARM's Cortex-A9 MP processors will change roadmaps for some designers of netbook – minilaptop.
Next week we will see what Intel has to announce about "Pine Trail", Atom's next generation to power their netbook ideas. Hopefully we will learn more than we did in July, when Mooly Eden said Pine Trail CPU and Moorfield platform are on track. Truth to be told, we don't see Intel being a dominating competitor until they launch their own Medfield platform [successor to Moorfield, Ed.].
ARM, Cortex-A9 MP, Cortex-A8, Microsoft, Windows CE, Windows Mobile, Linux, Android, Symbian, Windows XP, Windows 7, Apple, iPhone, Palm, Pre, Pixi, Nandan Nayampally, Eric Schorn, Intel, Atom, Pine Trail, Apple, iPhone, Palm, Pre, Pixi, webOS , Foleo, AMD, Geode, Classmate PC, Eduwise, One Laptop per Child, MIT, netbook, minilaptop, 1080P, WiFi, 3G, ASUS, Eee Pixel Qi, Marvell Technology, Wind River Systems, Mooly Eden
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