Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, its ARM’s new 128 bit processor. Like all good science-fiction the plot sounds feasible but actually, in the end, it is all make believe. So it is with ARM’s plans for a 128 bit processor. Rumors have been circulating this week because the Korea Herald wrote a piece about how an unnamed ARM official “predicted that a 128-bit processor could hit the market in the next two years.” But just to be sure the report added that the spokesperson “emphasized that it was just a possibility rather than a set plan.”
ARM don’t often deny rumors and speculation but in this case Ian Drew, ARM’s Chief Marketing Officer and EVP for Business Development, has written a a stern denial to rebut the Korea Herald’s misguided piece. According to Ian, “There are absolutely no plans underway for 128 bit ARM-based chips because they simply aren’t needed. Rumors to the contrary are simply incorrect.”
There are absolutely no plans underway for 128 bit ARM-based chips because they simply aren't needed. Rumors to the contrary are simply incorrect.
The only name mentioned in the Herald’s piece was that of Antonio Viana, ARM’s EVP for Global and Commercial Development, who was attending an ARM Technical Symposia to give a presentation on connectivity and mobility in the future. Ian Drew wrote that neither Antonio or any other ARM executive made the alleged comments. “Furthermore, comments attributed to any ARM executive including my colleague Antonio Viana that allegedly discuss any specific partner’s chip plans for the future or 128 bit development are inaccurate: no such comments have been made,” added Drew.
Apple caught everyone off guard earlier this year when it announced the iPhone 5S with the 64-bit A7 processor. Since then many of the big names in Android have been rushing around trying to formulate a plan for Android devices with 64-bit CPUs. ARM actually announced its ARMv8-A architecture over two years ago and it is thought that Samsung will release devices with 64-bit SoCs during in 2014. Ian Drew again, “in the coming year I expect we will see increasing announcements of 64-bit solutions across mobile, networking and server markets.”
64-bits is all you need
Unfortunately there is still some confusion among consumers about the benefits of 64-bits. When 64-bits came to PCs the big advantage touted by Intel and AMD was the ability to address more than 4 GB of RAM. And that is true but it isn’t the only benefit, in fact for mobile devices it hardly isn’t a benefit at all (at least not now). In fact huge amounts of memory in a mobile device might not be that close. The latest version of Android has been specifically designed to run in just 512 MB of RAM to boost the adoption of Android 4.x on lower end phones. The benefits of 64 bits for mobile devices are found elsewhere.
ARM has launched a family of ARMv8-A architecture based processors that support 64-bit, and the first products based on these chips are coming to market.
Since 64-bit processors move data around in 8 byte chunks, internally and externally, operations related to graphics, I/O and Single Instruction, Multiple Data (SIMD) instructions gain significant speed increases. Also tasks like encryption see big speed boosts. According to benchmarks performed on Apple’s 64-bit ARM implementation, some operations are up to 68 percent faster on a 64-bit processor and performing AES encryption is 825% faster. However it is worth noting that some of these benefits are due to instruction level support for cryptography in the new ARMv8 architecture and not the move to 64-bit per se.
Like the move from 16 bits to 32 bits, the move from 32 bits to 64 bits heralds a new era for mobile computing, some of it related to memory and most of it not. However it doesn’t look like there will be a move to 128 bits any time soon!!!