Multi-core ARM chips bound for Apple's next-gen iPhones

Posted:
in iPhone edited January 2014
Apple's new iPhone 3G S hasn't hit store shelves yet but already there's talk of next year's models, which are expected to leverage ARM's multi-core processor designs in giving the touchscreen handset a significant performance boost while simultaneously increasing battery life once again.



Like Palm's new Pre device, the iPhone 3G S is believed to be powered by a single-core ARM Cortex-A8 running at roughly 600MHz. It may be the last of its breed, however. Future embedded processors from the world's leading mobile chip designer are expected to follow a path similar to those for conventional PCs, by which performance gains are achieved by scaling up the number of available processor cores.



Reference designs for ARM's next-generation Cortex-A9 call for versions with either two or four cores, with dual-core versions "definitely" slated to turn up in smartphones that will ship sometime in 2010, James Bruce, wireless segment manager for ARM, told CNet News.com in a phone interview earlier this week.



"What we've done on the A9 is actually make it more power efficient than the A8," he said. "The dual-core A9 will be coming out on 45-nanometer rather than the (current) 65-nanometer process."



The smaller, more precise design of the A9 will signal a faster, more power-efficient chip. And although power consumption will increase some 10 to 20 percent at peak performance when compared to the A8, Bruce noted that smartphones based off the new design will actually see better battery life in real-world usage situations.



That's because, like the A8 in the iPhone 3G S, the A9 will process instructions in larger batches more efficiently than its predecessor, which means that computations will happen more rapidly and processes will take less time, leaving the battery in future iPhones with more juice for browsing the web, sending email, and uploading video files. The A9 also sports some out-of-order processing characteristics, letting the chip make use of processor cycles that would otherwise be wasted by current chip designs.



"You're getting a 2X increase (over the previous ARM design)," Brunce said of the A8 in the upcoming iPhone 3G S. "And actually the A9 takes that even further. It's a superscalar design but it's also an out-of-order design as well. There is some out-of-order aspects with the A8 but the A9 is a very aggressive out-of-order processor."







In addition to these enhancements, Apple is expected to build some of its own proprietary technologies into future iPhone chips based off ARM's A9 reference designs with the help of resources acquired last year in the purchase of fabless chip designer P.A. Semi. Last July, it secured "a long-term architecture license to ARM's current and future technology" that will allow it to do so.



By returning to its roots and developing its own brand of ARM chips in-house, Apple stands to keep a tighter lid on its future product plans while possibly saving on costs at the same time. It will also allow the electronics maker to innovate in a way going forward that will differentiate its handheld products from a growing array of competitive devices that will be left to rely on ARM's broadly available reference designs.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 84
    backtomacbacktomac Posts: 4,579member
    A9 + LTE = upgrade for me.



    Hopefully next summer.
  • Reply 2 of 84
    mazzymazzy Posts: 53member
    See! All you who got pissy about the upgrade price, can now happily wait until your time comes and by then a faster iPhone will be out. But then everyone who purchased the 3GS now will get pissy because THEY won't get the new phone cheaper next year. Oh well . Round and round we spin.
  • Reply 3 of 84
    BuffyzDeadBuffyzDead Posts: 327member
    Due to the two year contract thang, I'll be skipping the 3G S, even though I'd qualify for the discount price ~12/17/09.



    This will be my next iPhone, the 3G SS OR the 4G.

  • Reply 4 of 84
    teckstudteckstud Posts: 6,476member
    Does this mean next year's iPhone will get multi tasking with multi Apps?
  • Reply 5 of 84
    wizard69wizard69 Posts: 12,799member
    First, just because we suspect that Apple via PA Semi is going to put it's own IP on the SoC it doesn't mean everybody else is stuck with reference designs. TI, Samsung, Nvidia, and a host of others are fully capable of adding their own IP. In fact considering the commodity nature of cell phone processors and world wide demand I suspect Apple will have a hard time remaing competitive going it alone. There is huge incentive for ARM licensees to produce unique and competitive new variants.



    As to ARM A9 I suspect that it will be awhile before it shows up in IPhone. Rather it will show up first in follow on IPod Touches and other tablets. These chips will make excellent game machines and tablets. I'm not even sure we will have to wait till 2010. Apple could steal Christmas with an A9 based Touch with a fat battery and a slightly larger screen.





    Dave
  • Reply 6 of 84
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by BuffyzDead View Post


    Due to the two year contract thang, I'll be skipping the 3G S, even though I'd qualify for the discount price ~12/17/09.



    This will be my next iPhone, the 3G SS OR the 4G.





    Me too! Someone mentioned that the 3G S was most likely a stop gap to tide consumers over until the truly next-gen iPhone came out. Seems like they may have been right.
  • Reply 7 of 84
    boogabooga Posts: 1,077member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by mazzy View Post


    See! All you who got pissy about the upgrade price, can now happily wait until your time comes and by then a faster iPhone will be out. But then everyone who purchased the 3GS now will get pissy because THEY won't get the new phone cheaper next year. Oh well . Round and round we spin.



    My wife and I are playing leapfrog with generations. So her phone upgrades this year, mine next... between the two of us we'll always have one of the latest in the household.
  • Reply 8 of 84
    chronsterchronster Posts: 1,894member
    Ugh...



    I understand the next iPhone stands to benefit from this announcement, but doesn't it seem weird to focus so much attention on it? The real news here is the processor. It's fair to mention the fact that the iPhone could use this, but at the same time, will there be an article about what the next iphone might have anytime news about the latest and greatest technology comes along? Plenty of other devices will benefit from this, not just the iPhone.



    Then again, this is APPLE insider, and I guess it makes sense to keep people looking toward the future and how it will effect products they have an eye on.



    So in conclusion, I got nothin :/
  • Reply 9 of 84
    hmurchisonhmurchison Posts: 12,268member
    Well it looks like OpenCL and Grand Central Dispatch will be coming to iPhone SDK 3.5 next June. Huah.
  • Reply 10 of 84
    SpamSandwichSpamSandwich Posts: 31,122member
    This story is hilarious. Speculating about something at least a year off... at Apple?
  • Reply 11 of 84
    crowleycrowley Posts: 5,831member
    Apple may not be the only manufacturer that benefits from these chips, but suddenly Grand Central seems like the hole in one that pushes the iPhone's OS to new heights. TI, Samsung, nVidia and a host of others will struggle to catch up if that gem of technology proves its worth to even half its potential.
  • Reply 12 of 84
    chronsterchronster Posts: 1,894member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Crowley View Post


    TI, Samsung, nVidia and a host of others will struggle to catch up if that gem of technology proves its worth to even half its potential.



    you're talking about google voice? (formerly known as grand central.)
  • Reply 13 of 84
    ghostface147ghostface147 Posts: 1,629member
    iPhone LTE?
  • Reply 14 of 84
    addaboxaddabox Posts: 12,660member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by wizard69 View Post


    First, just because we suspect that Apple via PA Semi is going to put it's own IP on the SoC it doesn't mean everybody else is stuck with reference designs. TI, Samsung, Nvidia, and a host of others are fully capable of adding their own IP. In fact considering the commodity nature of cell phone processors and world wide demand I suspect Apple will have a hard time remaing competitive going it alone. There is huge incentive for ARM licensees to produce unique and competitive new variants.



    As to ARM A9 I suspect that it will be awhile before it shows up in IPhone. Rather it will show up first in follow on IPod Touches and other tablets. These chips will make excellent game machines and tablets. I'm not even sure we will have to wait till 2010. Apple could steal Christmas with an A9 based Touch with a fat battery and a slightly larger screen.





    Dave



    I understand what you're saying, but I wonder if that's actually true.



    My impression is that the larger handset market operates much like the larger commodity PC market-- there's a race to get bragging rights for the latest off-the-shelf hotness (faster CPUs, cooler screen tech, higher MP cameras, etc) and, as of late, a need to get some good looking animations going with the UI as well as some ad worthy home screens, but very little in the way of basic innovation.



    I mean, I take your point that someone could do some work in this area, but it doesn't appear to be considered a point of competitive advantage. And why would it? Unless your hardware innovations are driven by specific software implementations, what's the point? Some hard to explain proprietary tech that makes your still kinda cumbersome OS be cumbersome slightly faster? When you could just be trumpeting CPU speed and screen resolution and OLED and 12 MP cameras, without out all the bother?



    Apple is in a unique position, because whatever they do in hardware is a means to an end-- they have ambitions for their OS and UI that may not be achievable with off-the-shelf hardware.

    By using an OS X derived mobile OS, they have a desktop's worth of computing power that they can shoehorn into handsets as the hardware becomes available. They have very good motivations for doing everything possible to get more performance into the iPhone, because they have the software that can take full advantage of it.



    More specifically, they have very good motivations for doing fundamental work on efficiency and power, because that will allow them to continue to innovate and differentiate with software, as opposed to just boosting their spec lists.
  • Reply 15 of 84
    solipsismsolipsism Posts: 25,726member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by DanaCameron View Post


    Me too! Someone mentioned that the 3G S was most likely a stop gap to tide consumers over until the truly next-gen iPhone came out. Seems like they may have been right.



    I?m not sure what part of this update is just a stopgap. The CPU, GPU, camera, RAM, and 3G have all have been upgraded. We?ll have to wait for iSuppli and iFixit to see more of the internal goodness. Considering that last year mainly updated the capacity and added GPS and 3G it?s extremely substantial. Hopefully it?ll be enough to get 3rd-party apps to feasibly run in the background.





    Quote:
    Originally Posted by hmurchison View Post


    Well it looks like OpenCL and Grand Central Dispatch will be coming to iPhone SDK 3.5 next June. Huah.



    It would be nice if the iPhone OS X can substantially benefit from GC and OpenCL.





    Quote:
    Originally Posted by ghostface147 View Post


    iPhone LTE?



    Not unless you jump several years into the future. We?re only getting a 7.2Mbps HSDPA radio. There is no talk of HSUPA (which surprised me) and there is still Evolved HSPA still to go in the 3G range before we get to LTE. On top of that, there are no radios that will work for phones at this point. First you need the infrastructure tested and the USB/ EC/34 cards for notebooks as power and size is less important before you can even consider trying to get these radios in a svelte phone. Progress happens in steps.
  • Reply 16 of 84
    adamiigsadamiigs Posts: 355member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by teckstud View Post


    Does this mean next year's iPhone will get multi tasking with multi Apps?



    Sure so we can end up like a doofus at work that bought a Pre and got 4 1/2 hours out of his battery after it was fully charged, that would be .... awesome?



    Oh and the keyboard is a joke, iPhone killer indeed.
  • Reply 17 of 84
    hmurchisonhmurchison Posts: 12,268member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by addabox View Post




    Apple is in a unique position, because whatever they do in hardware is a means to an end-- they have ambitions for their OS and UI that may not be achievable with off-the-shelf hardware.

    By using an OS X derived mobile OS, they have a desktop's worth of computing power that they can shoehorn into handsets as the hardware becomes available. They have very good motivations for doing everything possible to get more performance into the iPhone, because they have the software that can take full advantage of it.



    More specifically, they have very good motivations for doing fundamental work on efficiency and power, because that will allow them to continue to innovate and differentiate with software, as opposed to just boosting their spec lists.



    +1



    A lot of companies would love to do custom designs but it ain't cheap. Apple should be able to leverage economy of scale for their custom chips by using them in the future products where they are using off the shelf parts now.
  • Reply 18 of 84
    solipsismsolipsism Posts: 25,726member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by AdamIIGS View Post


    Oh and the keyboard is a joke, iPhone killer indeed.



    It?s certainly no anything-killer but it does fill a niche that the iPhone doesn?t address at this time. That is the best move for Palm if they were going to make any headway at this stage in the game.
  • Reply 19 of 84
    pxtpxt Posts: 683member
    Only 365 days to go !
  • Reply 20 of 84
    melgrossmelgross Posts: 31,692member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by wizard69 View Post


    First, just because we suspect that Apple via PA Semi is going to put it's own IP on the SoC it doesn't mean everybody else is stuck with reference designs. TI, Samsung, Nvidia, and a host of others are fully capable of adding their own IP. In fact considering the commodity nature of cell phone processors and world wide demand I suspect Apple will have a hard time remaing competitive going it alone. There is huge incentive for ARM licensees to produce unique and competitive new variants.



    As to ARM A9 I suspect that it will be awhile before it shows up in IPhone. Rather it will show up first in follow on IPod Touches and other tablets. These chips will make excellent game machines and tablets. I'm not even sure we will have to wait till 2010. Apple could steal Christmas with an A9 based Touch with a fat battery and a slightly larger screen.





    Dave



    I think the big thing with Apple is that they want to do some things that the designs that are sold by others won't allow them to do.



    It's possible, but not likely that Palm, for example, will get TI to make special mods to their designs just for them, even if Palm knew what, and how to spec it.



    By Apple modding its own chips, they an do whatever they want to, and patent the designs so that others can't copy them.



    It's like Intel and AMD. AMD has the license to produce x86 compatible chips, but not Intel's latest designs. That gives Intel an advantage.
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