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Jun 15, 2009

Chips for iPhone, Palm Pre

ARM, the company that designs chips for the world's smartphones, said handset makers will deliver the first models using more than one processor core next year, as high-end mobile phones begin to mimic the hardware attributes of PCs.
Palm Pre

And that means top smartphone suppliers such as Apple and Palm, which both use ARM-based processors, will likely deliver models packing at least two cores inside the main processor--referred to as an application (or applications) processor.

This is a natural progression for high-end smartphones like the iPhone and Palm Pre as the software those phones run gets increasingly sophisticated.

"You'll definitely see handsets shipping with a dual-core A9 in 2010," James Bruce, wireless segment manager for ARM, said in a phone interview earlier this week, referring to the next-generation Cortex-A9 processor from ARM.

The Palm Pre uses a processor based on the current-generation Cortex A8. The iPhone also uses an Apple-branded chip that is based on an ARM design.

"The A8 is just a single core while the A9 will be dual-core, all the way up to quad-core to give smartphones an even bigger performance boost," Bruce said.

He said the move to dual-core phones should happen relatively quickly. "It's very aggressive. It's only going to be in a year's time that you're going to get these phones," he said.

And what about power consumption, a critical concern for smartphones looking to deliver all-day battery life? "What we've done on the A9 is actually make it more power efficient than the A8. The dual-core A9 will be coming out on 45-nanometer rather than the (current) 65-nanometer process," Bruce said. Generally, the smaller the geometries, the faster and more power-efficient the processor is.

Bruce continued. "With the dual-core running at maximum load there's probably going to be an increase of about 10 to 20 percent in power consumption but in general day to day use you're actually going to see better battery life."

Manufacturers are very strict about power-consumption caps, he said. "The manufacturers lay down the law that maximum power consumption of the processor is 300 milliwatts. In the mobile space, this is one of those golden rules that we have to live within," he said, speaking about the upcoming Cortex A9 processor.

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