Design company Arm shows us where mobile processors are headed, expects 5nm chips in 2020

Design company Arm shows us where mobile processors are headed, expects 5nm chips in 2020
Arm is a company that does research and development of computer processors and licenses its designs to manufacturers. Almost all major smartphone makers use chips designed by Arm in one form or another. You might have heard the name “Cortex” in the context of smartphone CPUs, that’s currently Arm’s most popular lineup of mobile solutions. Almost all Snapdragon processors use chips based on Arm’s designs.

It’s no wonder then, that when we saw that the company released a roadmap for its future developments, it got our attention.

The company’s plan encompasses the next two years of development. Currently, Arm’s clients are manufacturing chips with its high-end Cortex-A76 cores with the 7nm architecture. Although phones with such processors aren’t on the market yet, Huawei’s Mate 20 is around the corner with its Kirin 980, sporting four of the newest cores.

Later this year, Arm says it will deliver the next generation of the A76, currently code-named “Deimos”, to its clients. Because Arm isn’t producing hardware itself, this means that manufacturers, such as Qualcomm, will receive the design of the chip this year, so product integration will be delayed by a few months. This will be the first chip designed entirely for 7nm and according to Arm’s plans will be succeeded by the “Hercules” chip in the summer of 2019. Like the Cortex-A76, Hercules is expected to have two variations, a 7nm and a 5 nm one. The 5nm is currently projected in the middle of 2020.

What this means for users, is that in the next few years mobile chips are expected to become more powerful, obviously, but more importantly, a lot more power efficient. Smaller chips require less electricity and produce less heat, which allows them to work on higher frequencies. According to Arm, its 7nm Cortex-A76 will be able to boost past 3GHz.

However, Arm’s timeline might be a bit too optimistic. Designing smaller and smaller chips is one thing, but mass producing them is a whole other beast. The complexity of the manufacturing process grows exponentially with the reduction in size. Even with 10nm chips, some semiconductor foundries have been struggling to produce enough usable silicon. For the 5nm generation, they will rely on completely new production methods, that are yet to be tested for large scale manufacturing.

We have the map, now the burden falls on the shoulders of chip makers to follow it. 

source: Arm via Macworld



1. Well-Manicured-Man

Posts: 711; Member since: Jun 16, 2015

I am not a fan of high priced smartphones >=900 USD / EUR. But one positive side effect resulting from people willing to spend so much money on a smartphone is technical innovation and advancement. When I look at the pace at which displays, processors, ram, storage and modem bandwidth have improved over the last 10 years, I am convinced that good profit margins of flagship smartphones made this development possible.

2. lallolu

Posts: 733; Member since: Sep 18, 2012

I agree with you although I think that competition drove it more. No company can afford to be complacent while the competion is not (or may not be)

3. strategic_developer

Posts: 1627; Member since: Jul 17, 2018

Better technology costs more money. But I'm not sure what we have s all that much better that it results to a $300 price change in just 3 years. Cameras are doing more things, but they are not new tech. laptops were more expensive vs desktop, because they are portable. and yes the smaller the more expensive to make, back then. Today making things small is normal and not as pricey as it was 20 years ago. a 128K modem vs 1Ghz Modem. Same technology, much improved speed. Cheaper to make now due to improve manufacturing and much higher quantities resulting in lower cost.

5. sgodsell

Posts: 7573; Member since: Mar 16, 2013

When mobile devices first started out. There was a ton of different chips to make up that complete mobile device. Nowadays processors (SoCs) have so much embedded into one chip. Does anyone remember when they first started the GPUs were separate, as well as the memory controllers. Plus they were all single core with limiting cache and DMA. Nowadays everything and the kitchen sink is placed inside these mobile SoCs. Including GPUs, memory controllers, DMA, camera controllers, lots of cache, Artificial intelligence (AI), and more. That alone has single handedly helped to drive the prices down on these chips. If you look at a company that makes and sells Raspberry Pi's. You can get a single chip (SoC with additional package, or PoP). That chip has embedded controllers, DMA, GPU, cache, RAM, and a quad core 64 bit 1.4 GHz CPU for $35. The board itself has HDMI out, micro SD slot, 4 USB ports, gigabit LAN, stereo audio out, gpio headers, MIPI, and more. If they can sell that for $35 out the door. Raspberry Pi is coming out with a 2GB ram version soon. Back in 2008 I was still using a computer with 1 GB of RAM, and it was only a dual core.

4. Rigmaster

Posts: 234; Member since: Jan 22, 2018

The buying market will start making judgments on what's worth it or not. Smaller doesn't always pay off.

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