ARM launches Cortex A15 processor for servers and smartphones

ARM has launched a 2.5GHz processor for tablets, high-end phones and enterprise infrastructure, predicting better than 50% performance improvements compared with its Cortex-A9, and increasing memory range 250 times.

ARM has launched a 2.5GHz processor for tablets, high-end phones and enterprise infrastructure, predicting better than 50% performance improvements compared with its Cortex-A9, and increasing memory range 250 times.

Dubbed Cortex-A15 MPCore, it extends the capabilities of ARM's high-end Cortex-A series by adding hardware support for virtualisation, soft-error recovery, larger memories and system coherency.

"The goal was 50% better performance than the A9 at the same geometry with the same clock," ARM vice-president of marketing Peter Hutton told Electronics Weekly. "We have seen 2x and 3x in certain applications."

These performance improvements come from updates including a three issue pipeline compared with the A9's dual issue, and changes to memory interfacing.

System coherency is a new feature for ARM cores.

Like the A9, the A15 can have up to four cores, and all cores in the processor are coherent in that the same single operating system can run across all four.

Changes to the A15 bus allow coherency to be extended outside the cluster of four cores to multiple sets of four cores.

To make the processor more attractive to server firms, the A15's addressing range has been extended to 1Tbyte compared with 4Gbyte for the A9.

Virtualisation control completely separates the activities of multiple operating systems running on the same processor to, for example, secure banking transactions.

By customising the operating systems, it can be implemented entirely in software.

However, there is a trend among processor firms, including Intel, to move virtualisation control into hardware.

"With hardware extensions for virtualisation, operating systems can run un-changed," said Hutton. "Hardware virtualisation exists in servers and PCs, now the A15 takes it into mobile devices."

The processor is aimed at 32nm and 28nm chip nodes, with a roadmap to 20nm.

Hutton remains tight-lipped about most performance metrics, but did reveal the 2.5GHz operation figure is predicted from "high-performance" variants of 28nm processes.

To specify the core, ARM has worked with lead licensees Samsung, ST Ericsson and Texas Instruments.

"The Cortex-A15 MPCore processor brings a new level of performance scalability as well as a feature set that enables ARM partners to address a range of innovative and traditional markets with a single processor architecture," said the firm. "The processor will enable products ranging from next-generation smartphones, tablets, large-screen mobile computing and high-end digital home entertainment devices through to wireless basestations and enterprise infrastructure products."

This article first appeared in Electronics Weekly.

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