IT DOESN’T APPEAR as if ARM is getting ready to slow down its product development. Quite the contrary could be said as the company is readying 2GHz ARMv7 Cortex cores for 2011. It looks like Intel and its Atom processors might get a lot more competition.
ARM seems to be going from strength to strength at the moment and with the Cortex A9 core expected in retail processors from various companies later this year it seems like ARM has little to worry about. However, the company is already working on the next generation of Cortex based cores which are set to enter production in silicon sometime in 2011.
The one that matters in terms of consumer devices such as smartphones, tablets and other mobile computing devices and a few other things you might find around the home such as set top boxes for HDTV or various HD media players goes under the code name of Eagle. There isn’t much information about what will be on offer here, but PC World mentions clock speeds of up to 2GHz, which is twice that of the fastest Cortex A8 products today.
ARM is also readying the Heron core that builds on the Cortex R family, which is used in among other things hard disk drives and car engine management systems. Then there’s Merlin that is the next generation in the Cortex M family, which is used in embedded audio devices and various industrial control applications. Despite the fact that ARM sells a lot more licences for the latter two Cortex cores, we can’t really get too excited about these products as they don’t have the same kind of impact on the type of devices people buy as the Cortex A family of cores.
For now we’ve got the Cortex A9 to look forward to and with the possibility of quad-core implementations we might just end up seeing some interesting ARM based devices this year. The question is if ARM will manage to wrangle its way into the netbook and smartbook market this year or not, something that was expected to happen last year. This is potentially the largest hurdle that ARM needs to overcome, but there are a lot of smaller hurdles on the way.
Intel is most likely going to do whatever it takes to keep ARM out of this market space and judging by what happened during last year’s Computex, with Asus pulling its ARM based smartbook, it’s not hard to guess that Intel had some part in what took place. However, ARM is also lacking a “grownup” operating system for a device of this type and no matter how much Nvidia is busy tweaking Windows CE for its Tegra devices that has yet to turn up for sale, so we don’t think this is the way to go.
Windows CE just isn’t the same as Windows, even though it might look similar on the surface. It’s a very different beast when you start using it. Linux is one way to go, but there doesn’t seem to be enough support from the hardware manufacturers here for some reason. So this means that at least for now we’re stuck with Android, which works okay on tablet type devices, but if Acer’s dual-boot netbook with Android is anything to go by it’s not an operating system that’s ready for this market space.
One thing is certain – the market for low power, yet powerful mobile devices in various form factors is growing and evolving. This year is set to be the year of the tablet, no matter if we want one or not, as this seems to have been decided for us by the device manufacturers, least not Apple. For ARM this is all good news, as Intel just isn’t competitive when it comes to battery life in these types of devices and it might lead to further development of other ARM powered mobile computing devices.S|A
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