October 19, 2011 7:21 pm

Arm eyes $100 smartphone with chip design

Arm Holdings has unveiled a microchip design that could allow the development of smartphones costing less than $100 by 2013.

The UK-based company unveiled a microprocessor design that is one-fifth the size of those used in smartphones today, and five times more efficient.

“The sub-$100 price point is when we can start to talk about connecting the next billion people to internet content and services over mobile devices,” said Warren East, chief executive.

The new Cortex A7 processor will also help Arm maintain its dominance in the mobile phone and tablet market, where it is increasingly being challenged by Intel. Known for its extremely small and power-efficient processors, Arm’s designs are used in Apple’s popular iPhone and iPad devices.

Intel, which dominates the market for chips used in personal computers and servers, is keen also to supply mobile device makers like Apple. The US company has invested heavily in improving the power-use of its microprocessors, and this year announced a new 3D-structure for chips which would make them run faster while not consuming as much power.

Although the 3D chips are still some way from production, Arm has been under pressure to show that it can keep innovating as fast as its much larger rival.

The new A7 processor, which is expected to be in devices within two years, could help solve the problem of short battery life experienced by users of high-end smartphones.

Arm has developed a system in which the small and efficient A7 processor can be combined with a bigger Cortex A15 processor powerful enough to be used in a computer server or to run Microsoft’s Windows 8 operating system. A phone or tablet device using this kind of “Big.Little” processor seamlessly switches between the powerful chip for complex tasks and the tiny, efficient chip for simpler ones. Arm estimated that devices would have 70 per cent longer battery life using this system.

“Battery consumption is an important factor with the use of smartphones, especially with the exponential growth of data use that we are seeing today,” said Von McConnell, director of innovation and advanced labs at Sprint, the US mobile telecoms provider.

A number of chipmakers, including Broadcom, Samsung, Texas Instruments and LG are already planning to use the new Arm design in their products.

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