ARM spreads wings with phone-to-server 64-bit chips

The designer behind the chips inside most of the world's mobile phones is preparing to take on new areas and cement its dominance in old ones with two new 64-bit chip designs.

Mobile device processor specialist ARM has announced two chips that, it says, will help it span phones all the way up to high-performance servers with its low-power processors.

The Cortex-A53 and Cortex-A57 chip designs were announced by the company on Tuesday. Both chip designs are based on the company's ARM v8 64-bit processor design .

The A50-series of chip designs go from low-power phones up to high-end servers Image: ARM

"The Cortex-A57 is ARM's most advanced high-performance applications processor, while the Cortex A53 is the most power-efficient ARM application processor," the company wrote in a statement. "The Cortex A-53 is also the world's smallest 64-bit processor."

The 32-bit A57 has three times the performance of the 32-bit Cortex A9 as implemented in modern smartphones in roughly the same power envelope, Noel Hurley, head of ARM's processor division, said. The A53, meanwhile, has comparable performance to a modern high-end A9-ased smartphone but uses a quarter of the power.

As well as adressing the current competitive market in low cost high end smartphones, the announcement reflects interest in the industry about ARM in the datacentre - yesterday, chipmaker AMD announced plans to start producing server chips based on ARM designs in 2014

ARM expects licensees will use the company's 'big.little' heterogeneous technology to pair different numbers of powerful A57 chips with parsimonious A53s to create mobile devices that can switch between high and low-power states according to their task.

The technology could also have relevance for servers, with some using chips containing "a sea of very small cores" controlled by a big one, or vice versa, Hurley says. Both chips will use ARM's just-announced CoreLink range of on-chip networking and memory technologies to let many cores share cache coherent memory and move information around quickly.

The main driver for ARM's growth in the datacentre - and the reason why companies like Facebook are conducting in-depth tests on the chips - is that they consume less power than x86 processors from AMD and Intel, at a time when many datacentres are limited by electrical power considerations.

"We're at the forefront of the commoditised datacentre," Hurley says. "[It's] about doing as much as you can in as low a cost silicon die as possible."

Whether ARM's cost savings are good enough to justify the cost of porting over legacy software is another unknown, and one which won't be resolved until ARM's partners start shipping the new server chips in 2014.

Initial partners who have taken licenses for the new chips are server specialists AMD, Calxeda and Boston, along with mobile and embedded companies like HiSilicon, Orange, Broadcom, Samsung and STMicroelectronics.