ARM announces the new Cortex-A17 32-bit core

And to keep it company the Mali-DP500 display processor

ARM logoARM is announcing the new mid-range A17 core today, expect this successor to the A12 to surface about a year from now. For those more into graphics the A17 has a new companion the Mali-DP500 display controller.

As is typical with ARM core name reveals there were almost no specs given out other than a few gross details. If you recall the A12 launch, the A17 is more of the same so expect more and more information to trickle out until it launches in about 12 months. This core is a 32-bit CPU with a claimed 60% performance boost vs the A9 with a lot more energy efficiency sprinkled on. ARM claimed the A12 would be 40% faster than the A9 and more efficient too so expect the A17 to be a little faster and a little more energy-efficient than A12.

What is more interesting is that the A17 is just one of the successors to the A12, the other being this part. By keeping the A17 as a 32-bit part, ARM is playing the area and cost game. A17 was likely just a rev of the A12 core as seen but Rockchip’s materials, their catalog still says A17 for what ARM calls A12. This isn’t a definitive argument but it sure looks like a match from here.

If this isn’t the case it would mean ARM would have overlapping 32-bit and 64-bit core lines attacking the same markets, a level of engineering outlay that makes no sense just to cannibalize yourself. If A17 is just A12.1 then everything all makes sense, the mid-range market ARM is targeting with this core is both massive and cutthroat on pricing so 32-bit parts make sense for the time being. OEMs will kill to save a cent or a fraction of a mm^2 die area so optimizing the A12 on a regular basis is a smart move.

ARM Cortex-A17 block diagram

Where have we seen this before?

Rebranding it to A17 however is a tad more questionable in our opinion. We should know enough about the core before the year is out to say for sure which way it ended up, but ARM used the exact same diagram above for A17 that they did for the A12 launch.

The new companion to the A17 is called the Mali-DP500 DPU or Display Processing Unit, yay new acronyms. ARM describes this one as “Processing pixels to the screen. Securing content up to the glass.” so you know it has DRM top to bottom. Yay again? Both of these are accompanied by a slew of PoP IP from TSMC, Samsung, Globalfoundries, UMC, and SMIC, all on 28nm.

In short what the A17 and Mali-DP500 announcement does is flesh out the mid-range ARM core lineup for 2015. If you include the Mali-T720 GPU and the V500 video processor, one can build a nearly complete tablet or smart TV with the offerings from Cambridge. Add in a little 3rd party IP and a few offerings in Wiltshire for debugging support and you are off to the races. Any easier and the cores will have to pay royalties to Lego.S|A

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Charlie Demerjian

Roving engine of chaos and snide remarks at SemiAccurate
Charlie Demerjian is the founder of Stone Arch Networking Services and SemiAccurate.com. SemiAccurate.com is a technology news site; addressing hardware design, software selection, customization, securing and maintenance, with over one million views per month. He is a technologist and analyst specializing in semiconductors, system and network architecture. As head writer of SemiAccurate.com, he regularly advises writers, analysts, and industry executives on technical matters and long lead industry trends. Charlie is also a council member with Gerson Lehman Group. FullyAccurate