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ARM's New Chip Will Make Smartphones 3.5X Faster

SAN FRANCISCO -- Come this time in 2016, the mobile device in your pocket will be able to deliver console-style gaming and 4K video, all while consuming less power -- at least if ARM's latest mobile processor delivers on what the company is promising. On Tuesday (Feb. 3), ARM unveiled its new Cortex-A72 processor, which the chipmaker says will deliver 3.5 times the performance of processors powering top-of-the-line mobile devices from the first half of 2014.

At the same press conference, ARM touted its new CoreLink CCI-500 interconnect and new Mali-T880 graphics processor, both of which will work with the A72 to offer improved performance and efficiency. The goal, ARM says, is to offer the kind of under-the-hood improvements that meet the growing demands of mobile users.

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"Not only is your device becoming your primary computing device... the next generation [of mobile devices] could be the only device you need," said Nandan Nayampally, vice president of marketing for ARM's CPU Group.

ARM claims the Cortex-A72 will be its highest-performance Cortex CPU, offering more than three times the performance of the Cortex A-15 and nearly double the performance of the Cortex-A57 -- both previous generation chips. This new model will simultaneously consume 75 percent less energy for the same kind of performance. This lower level of power consumption allows mobile device makers to come out with slimmer and cooler devices, Nayampally says.

"We're trying to solve the problem in the most constrained enveloped, the smartphone envelope," he added.

The Cortex-A72 is based on the ARMv8-A architecture, allowing it to provide 64-bit performance, as well as backward compatibility with 32-bit apps.

ARM's CoreLink CCI-500, also introduced Tuesday, promises double the peak memory system bandwidth with a 30 percent increase in processor memory performance over ARM's previous generation of cache connect interconnects. The result, ARM executives say, is more responsive user interfaces and accelerated workloads for memory-intensive apps, such as productivity offerings and video editing.

ARM's new GPU, the Mali-T880, promises console-like gaming with more energy-efficient performance -- a 40 percent reduction in power consumption over the current Mali-T760 GPU. Graphics performance for the Mali-T880 is 1.8 times what the company's current graphics processor provides.

Besides the processor and graphics performance, the Cortex-A72 processor will be able to sustain 2.5-GHz speeds in smartphones. The chip will be able to scale up to even higher frequencies when used in larger devices.

ARM says it has lined up 10 partners who are already designing with the Cortex-A72. The company expects devices using the technologies unveiled Tuesday to hit the market by 2016.

To hear ARM executives tell it, increased user expectation for what mobile devices can do is driving much of the innovation for mobile processors. Take gaming, where mobile users now want deeper, more immersive experiences compared to the scaled-back mobile games of just a few years ago.

"It's no longer a compromise that people are willing to accept that Assassin's Creed plays differently on different devices," said John Cheng, head of analytics for Unity Technologies, during a panel discussion at ARM's product announcement Tuesday. "They want a seamless experience." Here's to hoping this chip can make that a reality.