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ARM Launches Cortex-A5 Processor, To Take On Atom 176

bigwophh writes "ARM launched its new Cortex-A5 processor (codenamed Sparrow) this week, and while it's not targeted at the top end of the mobile market, it is a significant launch nonetheless. The Cortex-A5, which will likely battle future iterations of Intel's Atom for market share, is an important step forward for ARM for several reasons. First, it's significantly more efficient to build than the company's older ARM1176JZ(F)-S, while simultaneously outperforming the ARM926EJ-S. The Cortex-A5, however, is more than just a faster ARM processor. Architecturally, it's identical to the more advanced Cortex-A9, and it supports the same features as that part as well. This flexibility is designed to give product developers and manufacturers access to a fully backwards-compatible processor with better thermal and performance characteristics than the previous generation."
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ARM Launches Cortex-A5 Processor, To Take On Atom

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  • by fnj ( 64210 ) on Sunday October 25, 2009 @01:11AM (#29862403)

    The Cortex-A5 is aimed at phones. The Cortext-A9 is the one aimed at netbooks. The article referenced in the summary makes this clear.

    • by BikeHelmet ( 1437881 ) on Sunday October 25, 2009 @03:15AM (#29862799) Journal

      I agree - the summary is bad.

      But it's worth noting that according to previous articles, Intel "envisioned" Atoms one day making it into high end phones. This latest move from Arm will prevent that, solidifying their lead.

      • by fnj ( 64210 )

        I don't think there was ever any danger of the Atom ever coming close to being efficient enough for a phone; maybe some other hypothetical fantasy in Intel's mind though.

        • It's on Intel's roadmaps, but bear in mind it's 2+ generations down. You'd be looking at a 22nm Atom at the earliest.

          The A5 will be outdated and replaced by the time Intel gets the Atom in to phones. So the A5 doesn't really change anything.

      • Speaking (typing) from a Quad G5, PPC and watched the happenings in OS X community/developer scene since Intel transition announced. If Intel one day manages to make Atom (x86) run in same low power as ARM licensed CPUs, ARM is doomed.

        Why? Compare the compile process of an open source, multimedia application on PPC and Intel. See the "bonus" stuff Intel chips get? Every kind of optimization, way more cheaper is available on Intel x86/SSE. Trust me, I am more amazed to Intel's developer/development/applicati

        • But ARM has those spiffy DSPs. More and more codecs are going GPU or DSP powered, so who cares about CPU optimizations for such multimedia tasks?

          By the time an Atom has as low power consumption as an Arm processor, Arm processors will be faster. :/

  • I would love to have one of these in a "smartbook". Even though it won't run x86 binaries (I use linux anyway) it would be useful enough to let me leave my big arse laptop at home. With hours of battery life I wouldn't need to take a power supply with me.

    So far though the only ARM smartbooks currently available have very limited RAM and disk space. I will have to wait and see what comes out in the next few months.

    • Re:Love to have one (Score:4, Interesting)

      by ozmanjusri ( 601766 ) <> on Sunday October 25, 2009 @02:34AM (#29862681) Journal
      I would love to have one of these in a "smartbook".

      MIPS rather than ARM, but these things [] are cheap and look pretty useful.

      EMTEC Gdium Liberty 1000

      • 900 MHz, 64 bits, Loongson 2F CPU by STMicroelectronics
      • 512MB DDR2 RAM
      • 16 GB G-Key removable storage. Up to 4 Hours of Battery Life.
      • 10-inch LCD screen with 1024 x 600 resolution. Slim, soft-touch keyboard, multi-finger touchpad and lightweight at 2.6 lbs
      • Linux Operating System with over 50 Open Source applications including Open Office, Evince, Firefox, Thunderbird, MSN and more
      • by dwater ( 72834 )

        If battery life is what you want, you might consider one of these : []

        but I wouldn't put it in the 'cheap' category. They're not available yet, but the battery is supposed to last for a long time...but it uses the Intel Atom :

        CPU and chipset

        * Intel® Atom(TM) Z530, 1.6 GHz
        * Intel® Poulsbo US15W

      • That looks nice, though the battery life could be better though.

        Found more info on it []. Looks like it uses a modded version of Mandriva. The USB flash as a hard drive replacement is interesting. Only problem is that you will have to buy the special G-key USB flash drives to have them fit nicely in the slot.

        Not bad at all.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        Why would you buy that when you can get a 10" Dell mini which runs every x86 app in existence through Windows, Ubuntu Preinstalled or Hackintosh?

        For almost the same price it has:

        Twice as much RAM.
        Twice as fast of a processor.
        Exponentially more software available.
        Twice as much battery life.
        And weighs exactly the same amount.

        • "Exponentially" means according to a function in which one of the terms is a constant raised to a term which includes the power of the x variable. It is not a synonym for "many times", and it cannot apply to something which is, even instantaneously, a constant, since it can only refer to a function. If you mean that the number of MIPS/Linux applications increases linearly while that of X86 functions is increasing exponentially you might have a point - except that, at any moment in time without more informat
          • You have to expect pedantry, this is Slashdot.

            Quite literally, I think you'll find.

          • How about this.

            Let's define a constant as X.

            There is X ARM software available
            There is at least X^Y where Y is >= 2 x86 software available

            Seeing as I have no idea what the actual numbers for ARM or x86 software is I decided to express the relationship between the two functions for any definition of X and Y as is accurate to the data.

        • Why would you buy that when you can get a 10" Dell mini

          Well, 2X the price would be one good reason... Once you upgrade to the larger battery, solid-state HDD, and including shipping and taxes, you're paying almost 2X the price, most certainly NOT "almost the same price"

          which runs every x86 app in existence through Windows, Ubuntu Preinstalled or Hackintosh?

          If you want Windows, go for the Dell. If you want Linux, you'll barely even notice you're on a different architecture... All the same apps will work.

      • The Loongson CPU is quite nice, but the 2F is closer to Atom in terms of power usage than an ARM chip (and a bit higher than even Atom). Note the 4 hour battery life, which is pretty poor for a machine in this class.
    • Re:Love to have one (Score:4, Interesting)

      by BikeHelmet ( 1437881 ) on Sunday October 25, 2009 @06:08AM (#29863285) Journal [] []

      Two netbooks with long battery lives.

      There are smaller devices available, which might be nice for lugging around - but keep in mind that the screen and Wifi are still big power draws, so the bigger the batteries the better.

  • No, it's not... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 25, 2009 @01:22AM (#29862435)

    The Cortex-A5 is a slight improvement over the MPCore/Arm11/Arm9. That's nice for those who need it, but it's miles away from the speed of a Cortex-A9, which is really what's going to be needed to battle Atom.

    And since the A9 has announced by ARM quite some time ago, this posting should have been written then not now.

    In reality, it's not clear which niche the A5 is going to occupy. It's probably going to be useful in lower end smartphones only, since current higher end models are already using the faster A8.

    • by OrangeTide ( 124937 ) on Sunday October 25, 2009 @04:32AM (#29863021) Homepage Journal

      As a developer for products based on ARM9 and ARM11 SoCs the A5 is targeted squarely at me. I'm not sure why it's of any interest to slashdot. But it does appear to be a cheaper ARM11 (to the point of making the ARM9 obsolete) but with some of the features of the A8.
      While smartphones are all sexy and exciting, the staple for cell phone manufacturers are the simple ordinary phones. If they can cram more features into the same cheap phone it usually means they can sell more of them. Think of it as competing in the free phone market. Where the styling and brand and features are the only way to differentiate yourself rather than price. The customer is just going to pick 1-4 of the plan bundled phones.

      • by Big Jojo ( 50231 )

        Not sure I'd agree with a cheaper ARM11 ... more like a cheaper Cortex-A8!

        Absolutely agreed that A5 targets ARM9 and ARM11 users though. ARM makes that clear. All other things being equal, I'd want a Cortex-A5 instead of any of those. ARM9 is trusty but limited at the high end. ARM11 is kind of awkward; never quite took over from ARM9, and given Cortex I doubt it'll ever catch on all that much more. ThumbEE (on Cortex-A) is way better than Jazelle (on ARM9/ARM11); it works for any JIT-oriented runtim

    • Re:No, it's not... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Locutus ( 9039 ) on Sunday October 25, 2009 @04:37AM (#29863031)
      the Cortex-A8 is out now on the 65nm process as are all the other low power device CPU's except Atom. Atom is currently on 45nm to get in the ballpark as the others but power usage is still pretty high. Cortex-A8 on 45nm should be in the pipeline soon and along with it, Cortex-A9. Those are going to shack the Atom up on price/watt and performance/watt. This is why Intel is moving Atom to 32nm ASAP but it's very expensive for them because they have to price the Atom low while at the same time use very expensive 32nm process space which they normally use for high profit desktop/server CPUs. So in 2011, along comes Cortex-A5 on 40nm so Intel would have to start looking at 2?nm processes to keep competing. I believe the ARM dude talks about this somewhat.

      Size is a big deal and right now, Cortex-A8 on 65nm is rather large for smart phones. they pack some decent power for netbooks so I'm not sure what the delay is on that front. Cortex-A9 on netbooks would be very nice but I think they are just sampling now so it won't happen til next year( 2010 ).

      ARM is a thorn in both Microsoft and Intel's sides and there is probably massive amounts of pressure on OEMs and manufacturers to stay away from it. Atleast on the netbook side. Remember, the head of the Thai Manufacturers Association said they fear Microsoft when talking about Linux on netbooks. ARM is an enabler for Linux so it too is a threat to Microsoft. But I sure hope the market gets to make the choice some how, some way.

      • by svirre ( 39068 )

        ARM builds even its high-end cores as softcores these days. It is the implementor, not ARM who decides which process node to use.

        • by Locutus ( 9039 )
          did I say that ARM inc made the chips somewhere? I was speaking more to the fact that ARM inc's designs are doing well on larger die processes, there's room for even better performance and power sipping along with Intel being forced to use die shrinkage to even play in the game.

          After reading the story on the A5, it sounds like the design documents for the design also relate to what process size is used. The A5 was said to be designed for 40nm process. So while the implementors may have a choice, they might
      • ARM does not make chips, they design them. The process technology is up to the licensees. Some are using 45nm now, and have been sampling 32nm for a few months with plans to ramp up production in early 2010.
        • by Locutus ( 9039 )
          I was talking more about the "ARM" platform than the company so yes, if people don't know, ARM inc doesn't build the chips but only sell the design to companies who produce chips from those designs. Saying that, I think that ARM inc's design documents somewhat tie it to a process size or that's what I got from the Cortex-A5 article.

          As far as some ARM based chips on 45nm now goes, which ones and who's using them? I thought TI was still 65nm and only read that Samsung was eventually to release a 45nm Cortex-
    • by ndogg ( 158021 )

      And since the A9 has announced by ARM quite some time ago, this posting should have been written then not now

      Yeah, it has. This article is a dupe [].

  • by not-enough-info ( 526586 ) <> on Sunday October 25, 2009 @01:25AM (#29862445) Homepage Journal

    Looks like the Cortex-A5 has 50% more performance while using 1/3rd the power of the current generation ARM11 found in the iPhone. As a game developer this makes me hopeful that we'll see cellphones as a gaming platform without sacrificing useful battery life.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Be careful not to buy marketing bullshit.

      Most figures you find in the TFA are in terms of DMips, which is an awful metric to measure general CPU performance. Imagine how easy it is to optimize a loop which contains 100 instructions, which is 100% branch predicted and 100% cache hit at L1 D/I. This does not translate at all to web browsing performance which is thrashing (at least) your L2.

      In term on u-architecture, we are looking at something similar to ARM11 on newer processes.
      TFA talks about:
      +80% DMips co

      • by Anonymous Coward

        The Cortex-A5 has a more advanced L2 memory system with multiple outstanding transactions. This makes a huge difference for many workloads compared to the ARM11 cores. Thus, for workloads not contained entirely within the L1 memories the Cortex A5 should offer much better performance.

    • by dwater ( 72834 )

      The phone I have - Nokia N900 - uses the ARM Cortex A8. I wonder how the processors compare...

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by TheRaven64 ( 641858 )
        The A5 is, from a marketing standpoint, a cut down A8. It supports all of the new instruction set extensions introduced with the A8, and is intended to be binary-compatible, but is a lot slower. It is also a lot cheaper. A decent A8 SoC costs around $40, but you can expect A5-based cores to sell for well under $20.

        From a technical standpoint, it's quite a different design. The A8 is an in-order superscalar design, with a 13-stage pipeline (and a 10-stage SIMD pipeline). The A5 is an in-order single-i

        • It looks like the A5 has the A8's branch predictor,

          If it's not superscalar, why does it need a branch predictor? It only needs to know when the first instruction fails a cache hit, so that any results can be held.

          Basically, the point of the A5 is to allow you to run the same software on much cheaper devices that you do on devices with A8 or A9 cores, just much slower.

          It doesn't sound like it is necessarily slower, either, since you can get the same functions as the A8.

          • by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Sunday October 25, 2009 @07:45AM (#29863529) Journal

            If it's not superscalar, why does it need a branch predictor? It only needs to know when the first instruction fails a cache hit, so that any results can be held.

            Uh, what? You need a branch predictor because it's pipelined. It has an 8-stage pipeline, which means that it doesn't know the result of an instruction until eight cycles after it was issued. If you come to a conditional branch, you need to decide whether to take it or not. For example, if you have some C code saying something like 'if (a == 12)' then you can't decide whether to jump to the else block until you've computed the value of a, which will be 8 cycles in the future. Without a branch predictor, you just stall for 8 cycles and do nothing. Given that compiled code averages about one branch every 7 instructions, that means that you would be spending most of your time doing nothing.

            The branch predictor makes a guess about which branch to follow, i.e. whether to continue to the body of the if statement or jump to the else block. It then starts executing whichever branch if guesses. If it guesses correctly, then the pipeline stays full. If it guesses incorrectly, the pipeline is flushed and none of the results of the instructions after the branch missprediction are committed. The processor resets itself to the branch and continues down the right track.

            The branch predictor in the A5 gets about a 95% hit rate, so on average you have to flush the pipeline every 20 branches, which isn't too bad in terms of overhead. Superscalar makes no difference to the need for branch predictors. A superscalar chip is one that can issue more than one instruction per cycle. That means that independent instructions can be run side by side. This is quite nice on ARM chips, where a lot of instructions are predicated, as you can run both versions in parallel and only commit the one that was meant to be taken, but it's completely independent of the branch predictor.

            It doesn't sound like it is necessarily slower, either, since you can get the same functions as the A8.

            Nonsense. By that logic Atom is as fast as a Core 2 because you have the same instruction set on both. The A5 and A8/9, due to massive implementation differences, will execute different numbers of instructions per clock and not run at the same clock speed. The A5 will execute far fewer and runs at a lower frequency.

            • The A5 and A8/9, due to massive implementation differences, will execute different numbers of instructions per clock and not run at the same clock speed. The A5 will execute far fewer and runs at a lower frequency.

              For now. But if they do implement it in 40nm they might get the clocks way up to compensate for the inability to retire as many instructions per cycle.

              • Not really. People are already shipping A8 cores on 45nm and ARM has deals with IBM and Global Foundries for 32nm and 28nm processes. But it's irrelevant, because you won't run an A5 at a high clock frequency if you need speed, you'll use an A8 or A9, because it will consume less power for the same throughput.
            • by raddan ( 519638 ) *
              Are opcodes still hardwired in ARM, or are they using microcode now? I know a little ARM assembly from hacking my ARM7TDMI (iPod mini), and found that ARM was really and interesting and weird (coming from MASM on IA-32) architecture, and quite a bit easier to use. But I remember seeing product documentation claiming that hardwired instructions were one of the reasons why they were able to keep their transistor counts (and thus price) down.
              • I honestly don't know. It wouldn't surprise me, given the attention to detail that goes in to an ARM core design. It was certainly true of the ARM 2, but I can't find anything definitive one way or the other. The StrongARM, I believe, had microcode, but that was designed by Digital, not by ARM (then acquired by Intel, who managed to turn it from the highest-performance ARM variant to the lowest in a couple of years).

                Modern ARM cores have a series of pluggable instruction decoders, which helps keep the

  • So this is why ARM and Global Foundries recently made a deal []. ARM's Cortex-A5 is going to be built on a 40nm and Global Foundries already has that equipment, with AMD working hard to advance to the next node that frees up a lot of manufacturing power for ARM to use. Officially it was for Cortex-A9 at 28nm but what's to stop other stuff from being done in the shadow of the deal?
    • Probably not. The A5 is designed to be cheap, and you don't produce your cheapest chips at the most expensive process technology you have. ARM's marketing stuff currently suggests producing it on a 40nm technology.

      Remember, ARM doesn't make chips. The deal with Global Foundaries was to allow ARM to sell designs and fab space in the same bundle (they do this with IBM and a few other chip manufacturers too), so when you want to make a custom SoC you go to ARM and say 'I want to make 10,000 custom chips b

      • Probably not. The A5 is designed to be cheap, and you don't produce your cheapest chips at the most expensive process technology you have.

        Shrinking the process can improve yields, since there's more dies per wafer. If you're chasing low power consumption, you use the smallest process technology you have.

        My current phone is right at the bottom of the market for what would be called a smartphone and comes with a 220MHz ARM9 core (on a 180nm process,

        That pretty much drives the point home, don't you think?

  • by Gothmolly ( 148874 ) on Sunday October 25, 2009 @01:37AM (#29862491)

    Its the Wifi/WWAN chips, and LCD screen which suck up the power, not the CPU. ARM is cool and all (pun intended) but if you make an ARM based Dell Mini 9, you're not going to end up with uber battery life, when you're on Wifi and running the screen bright.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      The main reason why the CPU does not suck power is because most if not all mobile phones use ARM CPU cores. Imagine a mobile phone with an ATOM, shudder...
      You would gain some speed but your mobile phone would need fans :-(

    • by Idbar ( 1034346 )
      I know what I'm about to say may not happen, but may make people consider moving to those mobile platforms: While you may be right about power comsumption, the fact that the couldd perform better and even add more core or better video cards using the same power comsumption of current devices makes me hopeful. I'd go for something faster or more powerfull than my current MSi Wind if it cosumes similar battery and I can run several programs at once or faster.
  • by chizu ( 669687 ) on Sunday October 25, 2009 @02:00AM (#29862591) Homepage
    ARM talked about the Cortex A9 (the one I'd actually like to have in a netbook) over two years ago []. There is still nothing you can get that actually has one in it. Yay something to replace the ARM11. Hope it actually gets used.
    • Late? They said 2010 in the article you linked.

      In this article, they said Cortex A5 in 2011.

    • Define 'you'. ARM began selling Cortex A9 licenses a while ago, but ARM does not produce chips. TI are shipping OMAP4 SoCs based on the A9 to high-volume OEMs for a little while, as have a couple of other ARM licensees. They should be appearing in consumer products in 2010. As, in fact, it said in the article you linked to.
    • Before the A series, ARM haven't really designed any new processors since Acorn Computers died in 2000/2001. The only development push ARM had is when RISCOS went to other manufacturers such as Castle. Now ARM needs to design new processors as their time has come where more powerful CPUs are needed in the mobile devices.

      • ARM11 launched in 2002. That's a pretty major one...

        (And, Acorn as a personal computer manufacturer died in 1998. They were using the DEC StrongARM, which predates the ARM9 and ARM10 - the StrongARM was used in place of the ARM8 that was still under development, and the ARM9 borrowed ideas from the StrongARM.)

  • Architecturally, it's identical to the more advanced Cortex-A9

    How can it be identical, when it's more advanced? Those two are opposites.

    Or is their definition of identity itself more advanced? ^^
    Like "(==) a b = a >= b" in Haskell?

    • This is what happens when you link to articles written by idiots instead of people who know what they are talking about. The article on Ars Technica was a lot better. The A9 is out-of-order, the A5 is in-order. The A9 is superscalar, the A5 is single-issue. They both have the same pipeline length (which surprised me; the A8 had a 10-stage pipeline, but apparently both the A5 and A9 have 8-stage ones). It's therefore possible that the A5 is a massively cut-down A9, with a single pipeline and a simpler i
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by cheesybagel ( 670288 )
      What they mean is that the instruction set is compatible. So you can run the same binaries on both (although they would probably run faster if you recompiled them).

      ARM has several different instruction set versions and optional extensions. You cannot run binaries interchangeably in a simple fashion. This is arguably true as well for x86's SSE and the ilk but to a much smaller degree. Why do you think cellphone vendors use Java ME even if, more often than not, they use ARM processors?

      The hardware archite

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by SpinyNorman ( 33776 )

      They're not saying "it's identical", they're saying "architecturally, it's identical", which is to say that any differences are non-architectural (i.e. performance, power consumption, etc).

      Perhaps a car analogy would help...

      If I say that color-wise my Ford Pinto is identical to my Ferrari, all I'm saying is identical is the color!

  • by hyades1 ( 1149581 ) <> on Sunday October 25, 2009 @03:29AM (#29862851)

    We really have to start looking more carefully at posts like this, which clearly contain entire paragraphs of unexamined assertions by company PR drones that may or may not be true. Bottom line: Kill this shit unless a trustworthy, honest reviewer with a decent track record says it. If that isn't happening, quit posting it here, where we have more important stuff to spend time on.

    By the way, that "more important stuff" includes pulling our dicks and/or replaying World Championship Monopoly games move by move.

  • Has anyone found intelligently done benchmarks which pit Cortex A9-MP against Intel Atom?

As Will Rogers would have said, "There is no such things as a free variable."