ARM is demonstrating the first working example of a multicore processor that may dramatically speed up smartphones while Apple is searching for iPhone engineers that can write multithreaded code, perhaps to take advantage of ARM's breakthrough, AppleInsider reports.
The chip designer along with ST-Ericsson is reportedly running a chip based on its Cortex-A9 architecture on a Symbian-based test device at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.
The design reportedly uses between two and four cores and is a successor to the ARM11 technology that dominates the market, including the Samsung chip in all current iPhone and iPod touch models. Like a desktop, applications can split work across multiple processors. ARM reportedly says it has the potential to be much faster than a single-core processor, but also says it could ultimately use less power by completing the same work with two cores at half the clock speed (or by finishing other tasks sooner).
The Cortex-A9 platform also reportedly has twice as much floating point math power as previous designs, and gives each core a NEON media accelerator that performs some of the functions that would normally be reserved for a digital signal processor, such as media encoding or decoding. ARM bases these on Simple Instruction, Multiple Data instructions like those found on most modern full-size processors, AppleInsider reports.
There has been no indication of the progress that the functioning chip represents, and neither company expects widespread use of the tech until the end of 2009 at the least.
As for the iPhone: The test has a potentially deep impact on the plans of Apple, who is a new but long-term client of ARM's and may have easy access to the new architecture.
Apple's recent acquisition, PA Semiconductor, is also known to be developing a custom ARM chip specifically for iPhones.
The spate of recent Apple job postings -- for engineers for iPhone applications, media interfaces and photo utilities, all with experience writing multuthreaded code, which is necessary for exploiting the presence of two or more processor cores -- hint that the iPhone maker is interested in mobile multicore processing, wherever the design comes from.
(Image: "A diagram of ARM's Cortex-A9 processor with its maximum four cores," from AppleInsider)