ARMing For War: ARM Announces New Cortex-A15

Earlier this week, we detailed GlobalFoundries roadmap for the next few years and touched on the company's rapidly growing list of partners. A new announcement from ARM today sheds fresh detail on where the semiconductor industry is headed in the next few years. Say hello to the next-generation ARM core, the ARM Cortex-A15. Unlike the ARM-A5 architecture, whose launch we covered nearly a year ago, ARM-15 is aimed squarely at high-end markets.

The degree of overlap suggests that A15 may nudge A8 out of the lineup altogether.

The A15 is based on the same ARM v7-A Cortex architecture as the A9, but adds support for LPAE (Long Physical Address Extensions) and is designed to maintain cache coherency between processors on a die and potentially between chips in a cluster. A15 also supports hardware virtualization and may include an FPU—the A9 has an optional FPU that the A15 may automatically incorporate.

"The launch of the Cortex-A15 MPCore processor marks the beginning of an entirely new era for the ARM Partnership. It brings together more than 20 years of ARM expertise in low-power design with a host of new and very aggressive high-performance technologies,” said Mike Inglis, EVP and GM, processor division, ARM. “The Cortex-A15 MPCore processor will become the next major step along the industry’s energy efficient computing roadmap and open up a wide range of new application possibilities for our Partners.”

The A15 in a four-way implementation

The debut of the Cortex-A15 MPCore processor enhances the ARM Cortex-A Series of processors by providing the electronics industry with the broadest range of software and feature-set compatible processors.  The Cortex-A15 extends the capabilities of the ARM Cortex-A Series by adding efficient hardware support for OS virtualization, soft-error recovery, larger memory addressability and system coherency. While remaining true to ARM’s power-efficient design heritage, the Cortex-A15 MPCore processor brings a new level of performance scalability as well as a feature set that enables ARM Partners to address a range of innovative and traditional markets with a single processor architecture."

ARM envisions the A15 scaling across the entire spectrum of mobile devices, from single-core and dual-core A15's in smartphones to octal-core A15's as part of wireless infrastructure, home entertainment devices, and ultra power-efficient servers (shh). Not only can ARM15 support more cores than the A9, ARM claims to have tightened interaction between the CPU, GPU, and security modules, and reduced the number of transactions that move off-die.

It'll be 2012 before we see the A15 in devices, but this is the clearest evidence yet that ARM and Intel are on a collision course. When Moorestown debuts in 2011, it'll be going up against devices built around current ARM processors, some of which will be built on GlobalFoundries 28nm process as opposed to TSMC's 40nm technology. That matchup is already guaranteed to stir the pot in some interesting ways—if the A9 performs well against Atom in 2011, the promise of A15 will undoubtedly help ARM convince its licensees that it's capable of countering Intel's assault on the smartphone/MID/UMPC market.