Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The ARM revolution

The ARM's Cortex A57  announcement gonna change the computing as we know:

It's an APU/SoC beast specifically optimized for performance/watt and fully scalable ( if 16 cores consume 30W you could place 64 cores to consume 120W or 8 cores to consume 15W ). ARM does not produce chips, they just sell the IP and Verilog code to synthetize the chip to other companies like Samsung, Texas Instruments, NVIDIA, etc... So their design must be very modular, flexible and scalable.

This is really dangerous for the Intel's x86_64 architecture because the A57 uses a much more modern and super power-efficient design grown from mobile devices ( phones, tablets, netbooks ).

But ARM also developed a very power-efficient GPU, the Mali-T658 , with 272GFlops supporting DX11, OpenGL|ES 3 and even OpenCL! This GPU can be combined with the Cortex CPUs to make an "APU". But, as I mentioned, the ARM's architecture is very flexible so an assembler like NVIDIA or Samsung could perfectly integrate their own GPU ( like a GeForce a PowerVR ).

Several companies are developing truly amazing processors based on ARM:

- Samsung developed the Exynos SoC present in old boards like the amazing ODROID-X2 board. We already have seen how amazing is the A15-based Exynos 5 present in the 249$ Chromebook and Arndale boards . It even supports USB3, DDR3 and SATA3!

- Calxeda, who made the EnergyCore ECX-1000 processor used in HP's Moonshot servers, is developing their next 64bits processor too. The power efficiency of ARM servers is incredible:

- NuFront demonstrated some time ago a desktop based on dual-core 2Ghz A9 chips:

( yay! Star Trek trailer :D )

- Nvidia anounced some time ago they are developing the Project Denver/Boulder... and they also have the famous Tegra chips.

- AMD also anounced they are developing an Opteron based on ARM.

- Qualcomm has the Snapdragon S4 chip present in a lot of mobile phones and tablets. The next version could be used in laptops and desktops !

- Marvell has the Armada-XP, present in the Dell Copper servers.

- Texas Instruments has the OMAP processors, present in several ARM boards like the Pandaboard ES.

- Apple said that they are investigating the possibility to use an improved A6X ( named A7X probably :p ) chip for their upcoming Macs. I remember when they swapped the PowerPC by the Intel CPUs ... History always repeats, apparently :D

So what we should expect in the future? Super power-efficient ARM APU/SoCs with 16 cores running at 3Ghz+ with amazing GPUs and RAM embedded. Hmmm ... wait! Did you say "embedded RAM"? Yep!

So forget discrete GPUs, DIMMs or RAM chips soldered on board. The future APU/SoCs will integrate all ( omg, poor motherboard assemblers like ASUS, Gigabyte, MSI, Asrock, etc! ). In fact, the Intel's processors after Haswell ( that is, Broadwell ) will use BGA packaging and not a LGA socket!

On the software side:

- Microsoft adapted Windows 8 to the ARM architecture ( called WinRT ).

- Linux already supports ARM. More specifically, Ubuntu's ARM support is pretty exciting.

- Apple's devtools and iOS already support ARM CPUs ( present in the iPhones/iPads ).

So ... prepare yourself for the ARM-attack and, if I were Intel, BEWARE !

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