ARM's Cortex-A7 promises £60 smartphones

The Cortex-A7 processor is designed to usher in an age of sub-£60 smartphones in two years' time by consuming less power and providing greater performance than the Cortex-A8 that powers many popular phones

ARM has developed a chip that the company says will drive powerful smartphones that sell for less than £60.

ARM Cortex A-7 diagram

ARM says its Cortez-A7 processor holds out the promise of slashing the cost of smartphones within a few years. Image credit: ARM

The Cortex-A7 processor, unveiled on Wednesday, is a 28nm chip that consumes one-fifth of the power of ARM's main mobile chip, the Cortex-A8, ARM said. The A7's microarchitecture is based on ARM's most powerful chip, the Cortex-A15, but has been optimised for low-power use.

"Mobile is the nexus... the centre, the focal point for consumer electronics," ARM's chief executive, Warren East, said. The Cortex-A7 is ARM's "most efficient processor to date", he added.

The 0.5 square millimetre Cortex-A7 should allow a sub-$100 (£63) smartphone in late 2013 to pack the same kind of processing punch as a $500 smartphone today, he said.

Like Intel, ARM expects the emerging markets — China, India, Brazil and so on — to buy more and more chips in the future. The Cortex-A7 is ARM's attempt to provide the markets with cheap but powerful phones in two years' time.

"I think the distinction is you will see the A7 and the cost savings [it] is going to deliver really help to enable feature phones and smartphones in the emerging markets," Tom Cronk, deputy general manager of ARM's processor division, told ZDNet UK.

ARM's processors power the majority of the world's popular smartphones and mobile devices. Depending on estimates, the chip designer has between 90 and 95 percent of the smartphone market. Its Cortex-A8 processor sits inside the iPhone 4, as well as the Samsung Galaxy S and the Samsung Galaxy Tab tablet, among others.

The only chipmaker attempting to compete with ARM in low-powered mobile processors is Intel, so far with scant success. Its Moorestown mobile processor did not find favour with handset manufacturers and its successor, Medfield, is yet to launch.

Intel hopes to get its Atom-based Medfield processor into a number of Android smartphones in 2012 thanks to a partnership with Google, but to date no Atom-based smartphones have reached the market.

In fact, Intel's mobile device division ran at a loss of $140m, according to the most recent quarterly earnings the company reported.

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