Tuesday, July 28, 2009

ARM-wrestling with Intel

ARM Cortex A8 is finally going to run in GHz speed, delivering more than 2000 Mips. So your Netbooks and iPhones may just be faster. If your response is Intel's Atom is already beyond GHz mark, here is the best part of the news: ARM Cortex A8 does all these while consuming just 640 mW power and can run at a minimum supply of 1 volt. Currently iPhone 3G runs at 600 MHz powered by ARM Cortex A8 processor. Both Intel and ARM knows that netbooks and smartphones are the computers of tomorrow, as PC was back in eighties.

So both the companies are gearing up from opposite directions to capture the market. Intel's x86-based Atom runs at 2 GHz, but the problem is that it's like the gas-guzzlers of GM. People would not go for a PDA or netbook that consumes battery at fast rate. Intel has speed but the problem is with the power consumption which it is working towards. It has already announced the release of Metfield, a 32 nm Atom that hits market in 2010. Smaller size chip with low power consumption. The best fit to compete with ARM. Intel's Atom codenamed Metfield is already reported by CNET as the smartphone chip of the 2011. The figure (Courtesy: Intel/CNET) shows the strategy of Intel.

As with ARM is concerned, market presence is its huge advantage. Almost all the latest handheld gadgets have ARM inside. ARM developers have more experience in embedded systems and so poised to develop low power processors. Currently they are up to the task of speeding up the processor to meet the x86 standard. Both ARM and x86 are superscalar architecture. I think both of them use AMBA interconnects. Starting from ARMv5TE (introduced in 1999), they have a DSP instruction set extension, which Atom also has. But the similarities end here. Cortex architecture is strikingly different from the x86 architecture. This fall, Texas Instruments is going to sample on OMAP4 with two parallel Cortex A9 cores in place of a single Atom core. There are already plans to introduce a quad-core Cortex A9 (see figure, Courtesy ARM/CNET), which would certainly pose a stiffer competition to Metfield.

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