Regular Android Authority readers, as well as tech-buffs, know that the mobile processor market is (and has been for the past years) under an almost complete ARM dominance. OK, so what about the big smartphone CPU manufacturers, such Qualcomm, Nvidia, Samsung, Texas Instruments, or Apple? Don’t they have anything to “say” about this? Well, the thing is most smartphone CPU’s are actually built on ARM-developed architectures, no matter if we’re talking about Qualcomm’s S3 and S4 chips, Samsung’s Exynos, or Apple’s A5X SoC.
Although Intel’s Medfield chip is marketed and hyped as an alternative to ARM processors, it’s safe to say that the mobile chip market is under total ARM dominance, especially since the Medfield chip is still a couple of months away from reaching the consumers.
So, why are ARM smartphone processors unbeatable, especially considering the fact that, when it comes to “general purpose” processors, such as the ones you’ll find inside laptops and PCs, the best ones are produced by Intel (the global leader, accounting for more than 80% of the CPUs sold in 2011) and AMD? The answer is power efficiency, an area where Intel is under-performing, while ARM shines like the brightest star.
In this context (pardon the over-sized introduction), I’m sure you’ll find it unsurprising that the most power-efficient processor available is also designed by ARM, under the Cortex-M0 name (also the smallest ARM architecture available). Recently, ARM has announced that they will soon release an even more power-efficient design, dubbed the Cortex-M0+, one that is touted to use only a third of the energy used by current 8-bit and 16-bit processors, although it is actually running on a 32-bit architecture, thus bringing more brute performance to the table. Even more interesting is the fact that the Cortex-M0+ is designed with code re-utilization in mind, making it very easy for designers to make the transition upwards from 8-bit and 16-bit architectures.
While the ARM Cortex-M0+ won’t make it into future smartphones (as its processing capabilities are, unsurprisingly, not exactly earth-shattering), you should expect the new architecture to make it into car systems, multi-sensor systems, as well as medical applications, over the next quarter. The new Cortex-M0+ may also provide a boost to the “internet of things ” – the upcoming network of interconnected smart objects, from microwave ovens to cars, and from lighting bulbs to pacemakers. On a side note, Android @ Home is also an implementation of the “internet of things” concept, one that use the open source Arduino microcontroller as a hardware interface. We can see the Cortex-M0+ replacing 8-bit Arduino, being far more capable, yet consuming very little power.
Just like all of their other architectures, ARM won’t be manufacturing the chips themselves, but Freescale and NXP (the company “responsible” for the NFC technology) have announced that they’ve already licensed the Cortex-M0+ architecture, so expect embedded systems using the new power-efficient CPU architecture to start showing up over the next quarter(s).