Latest Arm designs reveal 2021 phones will be amazingly fast

Latest Arm designs reveal 2021 phones will be amazingly fast
Some of you probably know that smartphone chips differ from computer chips in one very important way: architecture. Mobile chips use the ARM architecture while our laptop, PCs and Macs use the x86. We won’t bore you with the technical details, just wanted to point out how important it is when Arm, the company that owns the IP behind the ARM architecture, releases new chip designs.

Qualcomm’s Snapdragon chips and Apple’s A-series chips have different structures and performance but they’re all based on Arm’s designs. Companies license the designs and make their own tweaks and combine different cores to make the chip they need. For example, the Snapdragon 865 has 4 cores based on Arm’s Cortex-A77 microarchitecture and 4 based on the power-efficient Cortex-A55 cores. Well, now there are new kids on the block.

Arm just revealed the latest lineup of CPU, GPU and NPU cores, but that’s not all!

Starting with the CPU, the new Cortex-A78 will be faster and more power-efficient than ever. According to Arm it "...will enable multi-day, immersive 5G experiences thanks to a 20% increase in sustained performance over Cortex-A77-based devices”. Arm’s models show that chips with the A78 cores will be able to match the A77-based ones using only half the power. It must be noted, however, that some of the power-savings will come from the new 5nm manufacturing process.

Meanwhile, the new Mali-G78 GPU chip is bringing a 25% boost to performance over the previous generation, which Arm expects to benefit mostly foldables and other devices with larger displays. It might also come handy in the next generation of wireless VR headsets as they rely on mobile chips to do all of the computing on board.

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Performance gains are highest when it comes to the new Neural Processing Unit, the aptly named Ethos-N78. Arm says it has two times higher peak performance than the N77 and 25% better performance efficiency. It will vastly improve the machine-learning capabilities of smartphones and developers will be able to integrate ML without worrying so much about reducing the device’s battery life.

But the most exciting part of Arm’s announcements is what comes next...

Arm has a brand new line of cores: Cortex-X

Arm has created a new Cortex-X Custom (CXC) program to allow CPU manufacturers closer cooperation with Arm’s engineers to deliver chips tailored to the needs of the customers. Since the program is brand new and custom chips are yet to be made, Arm presented its own Cortex-X1 core. 

At 30% better peak performance compared to the Cortex-A77 core, the X1 is now the de facto flagship core. To achieve that, the X1 can boost up to 3GHz. Arm calls that “ultimate performance” for a reason. No words about power efficiency here, it’s all about getting the most performance.

Don’t expect all manufacturers to quickly jump on the Cortex-X1 train, however. The core is significantly larger than the Cortex-A78 cores and undoubtedly more expensive as well.

This program will take the smartphone performance race to a whole new level. We might see a completely new lineup of Snapdragon chips that will have one or perhaps more X1 cores or however Qualcomm decides to name its version of it. The Snapdragon 875 might not be the most exciting chip to have in your Android flagship next year.

Will brands like OnePlus demand chips with an X1 core to keep their performance pedigree? Will Apple work with Arm to design a Cortex-X1-based chip that will blow everything else out of the water? There have been rumors that Apple is planning to bring Arm chips to its laptop lineup and the Cortex-X program could ensure they won’t be lacking in terms of performance.

Either way, this is an exciting development for all tech geeks. The devices we’ll see next year could be a leap forward like we haven’t seen in years. We are worried about our wallets, however, and you should be too.

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