ARM Holdings’ business is to design and license microprocessors to other businesses. Their most recognized product is the application processor and companion graphics processor, or CPU and GPU respectively, in the shape of the ARM Cortex-A and Mali-T ranges. ARM license either their blueprint reference processor core design to businesses, or the license allows the company to modify or customize the processor core. To put these into perspective, MediaTek license and use the reference cores, so their current and anticipated System-on-Chips contain a mix of the newly announced ARM Cortex-A35, the Cortex-A53, the Cortex-A57 and the Cortex-A72 application cores. Qualcomm have and will continue to use a mix of customized and reference application cores: for example, the Qualcomm Snapdragon 617 uses ARM’s reference cores whereas the flagship Snapdragon 820 uses Qualcomm’s custom core design, the Kyro.
However, as exciting as current and near future chipsets are, ARM are already designing tomorrow’s processors. We’ve seen a spy shot of ARM’s mobile processor roadmap detailing the codenames and anticipated process sizes of the up and coming cores. In particular, the new high performance core (currently the Cortex-A57 and about to be superseded by the Cortex-A72) is codenamed Artemis, presumably after the Greek goddess of the hunt. The Artemis processor is expected to be built on a 10nm process, which will result in a further reduction in power consumption and heat output from the System-on-Chip. Currently, the smallest commercially available process size is the 14nm, which is used by some Intel and Samsung mobile chipsets. Other chipset manufacturers are switching to the 16nm process size. ARM’s newly announced Cortex-A35 design is set to become the new ultra low power core of choice, will also move to the new 10nm process size. This will further reinforce the Cortex-A35’s low power and small size credentials and make it an even more compelling processor core design for wearables.
However, whilst ARM’s roadmap leak is interesting, we have seen things like this before and the new Artemis core models are not expected to see commercial use until 2017. ARM will also be working on new generation GPUs, also shunk down to the smaller process size and with improved performance and power efficiency. ARM’s developments will continue to fuel the arms race between System-on-Chip manufacturers.