ARM demonstrates first 32nm, multicore chips for 2010. Netbooks?

ARM had a few separate announcements this morning in Barcelona.  The first was that its partners had ramped up its Cortex A8 processor production and would have chips in production soon.  This class of chip  (TI OMAP3) is what the upcoming (TI OMAP3 series) Palm Pre, Archos, and Toshiba (Qualcomm Snapdragon) phones will have inside.   We’ll likely this type of chip in 2009 iPhones.

In addition, with the help of Sony Erricsson/Silicon Partners, ARM will be demonstrating multi-core processor Cortex A9 processor technology that will be used in 2010 running SymbianOS.

The company said it will show a low-power Cortex chip manufactured using IBM’s 32-nanometer process that could bring features like full 1080p high-definition video to smartphones while drawing less power.

The chip will be shown at the GSMA Mobile World Congress, held in Barcelona from Monday to Thursday. Samples of the chip will appear in early 2010, while devices based on the chip could appear later that year, said James Bruce, manager of North American mobile solutions.

While everyone would like to see a multi-core iPhone this year, it doesn’t appear likely. But that doesn’t mean Apple doesn’t have big ARM plans

ARM even took the wraps off of its 2011 processor technology, dubbed "Sparrow"

BARCELONA—ARM, the company that has designed most of the processors in mobile phones, on Monday announced a new, low-cost processor called "Sparrow" at the Mobile World Congress trade show. The company said it is aiming to conquer the netbook market with its multi-core Cortex A9 architecture.

Sparrow is a small, inexpensive chip which shares its instruction set with ARM’s top-of-the-line Cortex A8 product, the chip used by the Palm Pre. While one Sparrow chip has about the power of an existing ARM11 (the chip in Apple’s iPhone and other leading smartphones), Sparrow can also be used in a multi-core setup to multiply performance.

By the time Sparrow phones begin to appear in 2011, A8 and the even more powerful A9 chips will be widespread, said Laurence Bryant, mobile segment marketing manager for ARM. Sparrow lets software developers use their A8 and A9 software in a much smaller, lower-cost device.

"We are seeing companies out there like Adobe, On2, and Symbian who are all tuning their apps to run on the latest cores from ARM," Bryant said.

And what of those "latest cores?" The Palm Pre is the first Cortex-A8 phone, though the Toshiba TG01 uses a similar chipset that Qualcomm designed to be compatible with the A8’s instruction set. Cortex-A9, announced last year, will introduce symmetric multiprocessing across multiple cores when it appears on phones in early 2010.

The Cortex-A9 can deliver around 1500 DMIPS of processing capability per core, with up to four cores, according to an ARM presentation. (DMIPS are a measure of processor performance based on repeated integer calculations.) That’s at least triple the computing power of the ARM11 processors found in the iPhone and T-Mobile G1. The first public Cortex-A9 demo is coming from Silicon Partners at this show, running a multiprocessing-capable version of the Symbian OS.

Along with the Cortex-A9, ARM is showing a processor built with a 32-nanometer manufacturing process at the show. The company has previously described a roadmap all the way down to 28 nm, but this is the first real 32-nm product the company shown to the public. Intel showed its first 32-nm "Westmere" PC processor last Tuesday. Chipmakers are currently moving from 45- to 32-nm processes; smaller processes let manufacturers pack more transistors into less space with more efficient energy use.

The power of Cortex-A8 and A9 also opens up the netbook space to ARM, Bryant said. So far, the netbook world has been dominated by processors compatible with Intel’s x86 instruction set. That’s in part because the most popular OS for netbooks is Microsoft Windows XP, which will not run on ARM chips.

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