UPDATED 13:16 EDT / MAY 26 2020


Arm unleashes a new wave of chip designs for high-end mobile devices

Arm Ltd., the top maker of semiconductor designs for smartphones, today introduced a new lineup of chips that includes its fastest central processing unit yet, a graphics processing unit for speeding up mobile video games and an enhanced artificial intelligence accelerator.

U.K.-based Arm doesn’t make chips itself but rather sells blueprints under license to semiconductor makers. Its technology can be found in the vast majority of Android handsets, as well as many smaller devices and even Amazon Web Services Inc. data centers.

The Cortex-A78, the first chip design Arm unveiled today, is a high-end CPU that can be expected to ship with future flagship Android devices. The British firm is promising 20% better sustained performance than the previous-generation Cortex-A77. If a handset maker chooses to trade off some performance for power efficiency, say to give a phone longer battery life, Cortex-A78 can be customized to provide the same speeds as the Cortex-A77 using 50% less electricity.

Arm achieved these improvements by shrinking certain low-performing circuits on the CPU and optimizing the faster components. The firm among others enhanced the onboard branch predictors, circuits that speed up calculations by trying to anticipate the result ahead of time. “We have maximized efficiency through reducing structures that have low performance and area, such as on the L1-I and L1-D caches,” Arm product manager Vincent Risson detailed in a blog post. “We have then optimized existing structures to consume less power, such as the brand prediction structures.”

The Cortex-A78 is joined by the even more powerful Cortex-X1, the fruit of a newly announced initiative called the Cortex-X Custom Program.

Because of handsets’ technical constraints, manufacturers usually seek chips that can provide a balance between performance, power efficiency and space efficiency. That’s the niche the Cortex-A78 addresses. The Cortex-X1, in contract, focuses on maximizing performance, providing up to 22% better speeds than its sibling under certain conditions while doubling the AI performance of last year’s Cortex-A77.

The Cortex-X Custom Program from which the chip emerged will enable Arm customers with specialized needs to order custom designs tailored for their requirements. “As part of the CXC program, subscribed partners collaborate with Arm to define custom CPUs that push performance at an envelope outside of the Cortex-A PPA,” Arm director of product management Stefan Rosinger wrote in a separate blog post. “As a result, partners will have a CPU that is specific to their market needs and shows differentiation beyond roadmap Cortex-A CPUs.”

The CPUs are joined by three additional, more specialized chip designs. Two of those are GPUs, while the third, the Ethos-N78, is an accelerator optimized for the sole purpose of speeding up AI-powered apps.

The Mali-G78 is Arm’s new flagship mobile GPU design. It can be used to make high-end smartphone GPUs with up to 24 cores and introduces a feature called Asynchronous Top Level that makes it possible to essentially split a chip into two sections, allowing apps to reduce the power draw of the section they use less to increase the host device’s battery life. The Mali-G68, the other GPU announced today, is a lower-end version of the Mali-G78 that also packs the Asynchronous Top Level feature.

Capping off Arm’s list of new products is the Ethos-N78. It’s a refinement of the Ethos-N77 AI accelerator the company introduced last year that promises up to 25% better power efficiency and offers performance corresponding to between 1 trillion and 10 trillion operations per second, depending on a device manufacturer’s particular needs.

Photo: Arm

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