Computex 2013: ARM announces mid-range A12, 'sets record straight' on Intel's Silvermont

Computex 2013: ARM announces mid-range A12, 'sets record straight' on Intel's Silvermont

Summary: Hero phones get all the glory. But ARM believes the market for mid-range mobile devices is about to explode. On the eve of Computex in Taiwan, the company announced several new products, including the Cortex-A12 processor.


The hero phones get all the glory. But ARM, the company behind the chips that power the world’s smartphones, believes that the mid-range — smartphones that cost $250 to $350 before subsidies — is where the fastest growth will be in the next few years. On the eve of the Computex tradeshow in Taiwan today, ARM announced several new products, including the Cortex-A12 processor, designed for this mid-range market.

“Today I want to talk to you about how the mobile industry is going to change,” said Ian Drew, ARM’s chief marketing officer and head of business development. “I want to talk to you about how the mid-range is going to explode.” The industry will ship more than a billion smartphones this year, and he said ARM expects that by 2015, the mid-range will grow to 500 million units per year.

The A12 fits in between the Cortex-A15 for high-end smartphones and tablets and the Cortex-A7 for low-end mobile devices. It also gives ARM’s customers something to replace the Cortex-A9, which was once the engine behind high-end mobile devices but is starting to look old. ARM said the A12 will be 40% faster than the A9 at the clock frequency thanks to a new, 11-stage pipeline design and improvements in the memory system. Some chipmakers such as Samsung are using both the A15 and A7 in the so-called big.LITTLE arrangement, but ARM said the A12 will initially be used on its own in dual- or quad-core processors for smartphones that will start shipping toward the end of 2014.

In addition to the A12, ARM announced the Mali-T622 graphic processor, Mali-V500 video IP and processor optimization packs (PoPs) with physical IP that makes it easy for customers to rapidly design and manufacture chips using the current 28-nanometer process. This is the first time that ARM has announced at the same time a complete suite of processor cores and IP targeted to a particular market. Drew talked about the importance of delivering the whole system — performance, price, power, software and graphics — tuned to the right segment. He said this will enable high-end features such as video editing, speech and handwriting recognition, and facial recognition in mid-range smartphones.

On its own, the Mali-T622 is 50 percent more power-efficient than the Mali-T600, according to ARM, but it is also designed to share compute workloads with the CPU cores to save overall system power. ARM said the OpenGL ES 3.0 Mali-T622 is the world’s smallest GPU Compute solution with support for the Renderscript and OpenCL APIs and cache coherent memory. The Mali-V500 is a dedicated hardware video processor that scales from a single core for 1080p video encoding and playback at 60 frames per second to multiple cores for 4K video at up to 120 frames per second. It also extends ARM’s TrustZone security features to video processing to make it easier to securely deliver high-definition video content to mobile devices.

ARM announced Cortex-A12 CU and Mali-T622 optimization packs for TSMC’s 28HPM process and an A12 pack for GlobalFoundries 28nm-SLP process. In a separate press release, GlobalFoundries stated that a Cortex-A12 processor manufactured on its 28nm-SLP will deliver up to 70 percent better performance and up to 2x lower power than a current 40nm Cortex-A9 processor. ARM executives also hinted at “other variants of 28nm,” which most likely refers to FD-SOI, an alternative technology that STMicroelectronics and GlobalFoundries are developing.


Intel’s recent announcement of the Silvermont Atom microarchitecture clearly irked ARM, and in response to a question, company executives were prepared with slides designed to “set the record straight.” Noel Hurley, VP of ARM's Processor Division, showed a slide indicating that the Cortex-A15 and Cortex-A7, manufactured on a 28nm process, were already outperforming Silvermont on Intel’s 22nm FinFET process, which won’t start appearing in tablets and smartphones until early 2014. He said 20nm and 14nm/16nm — the first node with 3D FinFET transistors — won’t be far behind and that ARM had a big edge with its hardware and software ecosystem. ARM said it has more than 50 customers designing chips using its technology and 60 percent of the top apps use ARM native code.

Topics: Processors, Smartphones, Tablets

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  • reinvent of the whell

    The A12 sounds really the same as the Qualcomm Krait and Apple swift, up to 40% faster with the same power consumption. I have no ideal why ARM introduce it, as it's 2 years late than the counterparts form Qualcomm and Apple and targeting the same market. And as for the Atom, the current generation Atom (5 years old architecture)is already comparable to Krait, swift and A15 in performance/watt with 32nm technology.

    To me, ARM armed too high with A15 which was simply not designed for phone/tablet. Keep in mind, the A15 without throttling is a 8w monster comparing to 2+w socs for either tablet or smart phones. ARM were either too confident about A9, or mislead by Intel's MID concepts. In either case, the A12 sounds like a making-up of their wrong decision, just a reinvent-the-wheel of the Krait and Swift. Is this the reason cost their CEO?
    • Qualcomm

      is dominating the market. Especially here in America where all the top phones are Qualcomm powered. they are only going to expand over the years as their chips are more power efficient and work on the same arch. Atom's are also very slow, they are not as fast as ARM CPU's and while the processor itself is lower power, the northbridge that it uses consumes alot more power overall. So there is a component that is missing that Intel is hiding. Intel is also behind on its graphics, it has no foothold in the market and its prices are high. Intel is becoming less relevant as time goes on.
  • Overconfident

    Intels near term technology will at the least reduce ARMs market share.
  • Thanks for the opinions, commenters

    But the fact is - Intel is playing catch up in the low power consumption field, and always has, even in the "heated" race with AMD.
    • True

      AMD is way ahead of Intel when it comes to power efficient chips, especially with embedded GPU's. And now they have full SoC x86 chips which are still lower power. Compared to Intel's design which still needs a mobo with a NB/SB which consumes more power overall.
  • ARM now over 25 years old - and Intel's still playing catch-up

    I worked on the first ARM based desktop computer at the design stage. At launch (1987) it was the fastest desktop computer in the world. I bought one and subsequently ran a test comparing it with an Intel 80486 based PC (leading edge technology at the time), using an 'identical' BASIC interpreter on both machines to repeatedly calculate the sine of a continually increasing angle. The '486 running at 33MHz took 1.59 seconds compared to the ARM running at 8MHz which took 1.61 seconds. i.e. the ARM running at less than a quarter the speed of the '486 was only 1.06% slower than the '486.
    OK, some of this difference could be due to the interpreter differences as obviously one was designed to run on the ARM and the other on the '486. However, if the '486 interpreter was less efficient one has to ask why? Was it because the '486 architecture didn't lend itself to efficient interpreter design whereas the ARM architecture did?
    The ARM designers had one fundamental advantage over the Intel guys; they had total freedom of design. The Intel guys had the ball and chain of backward compatibility to contend with. Even so, with Intel's financial and research resources, it's interesting that ARM is still ahead in the MIPS per Watt race, even if not quite as far ahead as they once were.
    Having worked on the original ARM, I must say that its architecture is the best of any processor I've worked on - and I spent the first 6 years of my software career programming in assembly language on a range of processors from Intel, Zilog, Motorola, MOS Technology and ARM, so I became very familiar with the various processor architectures around at the time.
    • Re: ARM now over 25 years old - and Intel's still playing catch-up

      Think you want to check your facts! Intel 80486 was not released until April 1989. The best X86 processor available in 1987 would be a 80386 released October 1985. ARM1 started life April 1985 so if you tested at that release you would have been testing against a 80286 release February 1982. Acorn actually released the first system based on ARM2 in July 1987. As for your performance numbers it would be interesting to know how accurate they considering the confusion over dates.

      I am not trying to start a battle here, rather I found the date inaccuracy which left me wondering.

    • ARM

      has always been very optimized. I mean look at the ARM devices from 6 years ago, the little MP4 player machines that could handle high def video at a time when a desktop PC would have decent CPU usage when playing back high def video... ARM is more optimized to do tasks that people generally do, its been built around specialty performance vs general computing..
  • Android, IOS, WIN8

    Has the 4gen evolution in processors and OS's arrived and all ready been declared failures?
  • I think we all should sooty back and wait

    Before making assumptions about intels newest processors. I'm sure they won't dominate the phone market anytime soon, but I would be willing to bet more tablets will be x86 powered in the near future.