Arm has announced its next-generation CPU designs, which will probably hit the market in early 2022. With all-new cores, a new architecture, and the death of 32 bit, the new designs are proving to be among Arm’s biggest releases in some time. It looks like ARM has not published a post with this information, but you can’t ask for a better source than the pages of info at Anandtech.
Arm CPU designs include cores in three sizes: “little,” “big,” and “performance,” all of which tackle different workloads at various power-consumption levels. The follow-up to this year’s “performance” X1 core is the Cortex X2, the big core is the Cortex A710, and for the first time in four years, ARM is introducing a new “little” core for high-efficiency workloads, the Cortex A510. Devices will finally be rid of the smaller Cortex A55 cores that were introduced in 2017.
Naturally, everything is faster. ARM is promising a 16 percent faster X2 core compared to current-generation X1-based chips, a 10 percent faster and 30 percent more efficient “big” core, and a 35 percent faster and 20 percent more efficient “little” core. Every core design is also seeing a 2-3x improvement in machine-learning performance, for whatever that’s worth. Put all those digits together and ARM says a CPU cluster with the typical phone layout (one Cortex X2, three A710s, and four A510s) should have 30 percent better peak performance and 30 percent better-sustained efficacy.
While the Cortex X1 and A710 are both based on the previous designs that go back to 2018 Cortex A76 cores, the smaller Cortex A510 is an entirely new design. ARM says this small core is within striking distance of the Cortex A73, the “big” CPU core in 2017 flagship smartphones. All three CPU designs use the new Armv9 architecture, which includes several security enhancements like the containerized “confidential compute architecture.”
Arm’s new CPUs continue the march toward the death of 32-bit. Google is doing its part on the Android side of things. Since August 2019, Google has required all app developers to ship 64-bit versions of apps on Google Play alongside 32-bit versions. In August 2021, the Play Store will stop serving 32-bit apps to phones and tablets. As for Arm’s new CPU designs, two of the three cores don’t support 32-bit code. Only the medium-size Cortex A710 core can run 32-bit code, so if you manage to find a 32-bit app and try to run it on one of these new X2-based phones, you’ll only be able to use the medium cores. This will be your last year for backward compatibility—Arm flagships are switching to all-64-bit in 2023.
Everyone wants to know if ARM’s CPU design department will attempt to answer Apple’s M1 chip, which tackles a laptop form factor that Arm previously hasn’t designed a class of chips for. Arm floated a possible M1 competitor: a chip design that features eight Cortex X2 CPUs instead of the mix of smaller chips. Arm is promising 40 percent better “peak single thread performance versus 2020 mainstream laptop silicon” with this design, but will anyone actually build it?
Arm just designs CPU cores—the company isn’t announcing or shipping an actual product to end-users. For that, you’ll need to go through a mobile SoC manufacturer like Qualcomm, Samsung, or MediaTek, which should ship Cortex X2-based products in early 2022. All this info needs to be filtered through the customizations and actual implementations these companies make, which could differ from Arm’s estimates. Qualcomm is one of the biggest distributors of Arm CPU designs, but after this round of chips, Qualcomm will probably start using its own designs. The company bought chip-design firm Nuvia and announced plans to ship laptop chips designed in-house in the second half of 2022.
Listing image by Arm