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