ARM Products and Platforms Primer and Resource List for Mobile Internet Devices in 2010. (Updated)

Updated on 10 June 2018 by

This article is updated from Jan 2010. See below for history.

The ecosystem around ARM, its designs and licensee products can be difficult to understand so I’ve been researching the current status and have summarized the important products, brands and technologies in the article below. You’ll find details on all the important keywords and technologies, links to all the important CPUs and platforms, a reading list and some ‘tip’s’ for CES2010 which starts this week. All the information is based on my own knowledge and research so if you spot any errors, please be sure to let us all know in the comments. I know there are some CPU designers and ARM partners reading this site so again, if there’s anything that needs changing or adding, please help us all by adding a comment below.

armarch

Overview of processor architectures in current ARM products

For the purposes of this article I’m ignoring anything other than ARM v7 architecture CPUs. In my opinion and experience the previous (ARMv6, ARMv5) designs don’t provide the processing power needed for the quality web experience expected in  MIDs. Note: Tegra (current version 2009) is an ARM11 multi-core CPU  implementation based on ARMv6 architecture. I expect Nvidia to move to ARMv7 in their next Tegra product.

ARM v7 is a CPU architecture, not a CPU.

ARM V7 is a processor architecture. It’s a design that belongs to ARM and it can be used to build CPUs that can process around 2 Dhrystone MIPS/Mhz. (Wikipedia – Dhrystone) That’s about 2000 DMIPs/Ghz which is not far from the processing power achieved by simple, non-hyperthreading Intel Atom cores also used in MIDs. DMIPs processor performance is not the only measurement of device speed but it’s a good starting point and is relevant to web rendering and web applications.

Processing power

In general, the architecture is being used to make CPUs and platforms running at between 600-1000Mhz (about 1200-2000 DMIPs) although there is one known implementation that has been tested at over 2Ghz. Power consumption per core is said to be around 300mw per 2000DMIPs using the latest manufacturing processes although this figure can vary greatly depending on implementation.

Remember that the CPU core takes only a small percentage of the power drain in a working device where the total in-use power budget including screen lighting, radios, audio, gpu, storage and DC components can span from 2W to 10W. (Texas instruments thinks that a 1W MID is possible though)

In comparison with the Intel Atom CPU the ARM v7 architecture can be used to make CPUs that consume about 1/3 – 1/5th of the power of an Intel Atom CPU for the same DMIPs computing power.

ARMv7 can also be used to make multi-core CPUs where up to 4 cores can be used to provide over 8000 DMIPS of computing power. (Assuming the software is built to handle multi-processing hardware)

(Further note: All these figures based on research, marketing figures, experience, testing and technical documents that I have read during this research.)

ARM does not manufacture CPUs.

The architecture created by ARM is used to do two things:

  • The architecture is used by ARM themselves to make a complete processor implementation which may include other ARM property. The CPU implementation is then licensed out to third parties who can either mass produce the CPU or build and manufacture complete computing platforms including graphics, sound, power, memory, etc. One example is the Ti OMAP 3 and 4-series platforms.
  • The architecture gets licensed out to third parties who make their own processors and platforms based on it. One example is the Qualcomm Snapdragon platform.

ARM have a number of processors that they’ve built using ARMv7 architecture and all fall under the ‘Cortex’ brand. There are real-time and highly embedded versions but the ‘A’ versions are the ones that interesting for general mobile computing tasks. ARM have three versions of the CPU. The A8 (currently in products), A9 (high end, multi-core capable due in products in 2010) and A5 (small, low-cost, due in products in late 2010) versions

Licensees.

When final products are completed by licensees you will often see them marketed under different brands. This is where it gets very confusing so I’ve listed most of the main players below along with notes and links to their various products and brands. Note that some ARM licensees are not made public and therefore no information is available.

ARM Cortex A8

ARM has 9 licencees. 8 are public.

Cortex A8 Product brief (PDF)

Licensee notes.

  • Ti OMAP 3 platforms 34xx 35xx 36xx  using Cortex A8 CPU core up to 800Mhz. Used in Nokia N900, Archos 5 devices for example.
  • Freescale iMX5 family of CPUs based on Cortex A8. Use in the Sharp Netwalker for example. iMX515 is focused at mobile internet and includes graphics co-processing.
  • Samsung. S5PC100 application processor includes the Cortex A8 CPU core (E.g. Odroid)
  • Samsung / Intrinsity – Hummingbird A very specific implementation of the Cortex Core using a tightly defined manufacturing process.
  • Zii Labs ZMS08 Core of the ‘stem cell’ computing platform. (Q1 2010 volume shipment) 1Ghz implementation.
  • Matsushita (Panasonic) Details unknown.
  • PMC-Sierra (storage, switching, routing solutions) Details unknown.

Cortex A9 (Multi-core capable)

Cortex A9 Product information (PDF)

ARM has 9 licencees. 6 are public.

Licensee notes.

  • Ti OMAP Dual-core 44xx platform. Full production expected 2H 2010.
  • ST Electronics Cortex A8 licensee (set top boxes)
  • St Ericsson – U8500 Dual Cortex A9/HSPA Modem platform. (Note Nokia and Symbian will be using this and it includes a Mali GPU and 1080p recording capability)
  • Broadcom (ARM news. No products announced yet.)
  • Nvidia Tegra 2 Dual-core
  • NEC Electronics. No information available.
  • Update: 28 Jan 2010. It appears that Apple may have licensed Cortex A9 for the iPad A4 CPU. (Source) Update: It’s ARMv7. Apples own implementation.

Cortex A9 MPCore Hard Macro – 2Ghz implementation of Cortex A9 using specific TSMC silicon manufacturing process.

Cortex A5

Cortex A5 is a multi-core, low cost ARM V7 implementation previously known as Sparrow.

Link to ARM information

No known implementations at present.

Other ARM v7 implementations:

  • Qualcomm Snapdragon platform (QSD8x50) uses single core CPU (Scorpion) based on ARMv7 architecture.
  • Qualcomm QSD8672 dual core platform at up to 1.5Ghz.
  • Marvell Armada 500 / 510 platform (PDF product brief) Up to 1.2Ghz

Notes for CES 2010 (UPDATED)

Key platform announcements to watch out for at CES 2010. Expect demonstrator products planned for 2H 2010. (All Cortex A9)

  • Nvidia Tegra 2 – Announced.
  • Ti OMAP 44xx – No news.
  • St Ericsson U8500 – Demonstrated by Movial on a set top box.

Expected in MIDs and smartbooks shipping in 1H 2010 on the following platforms. (Single core ARmv7 and Cortex A8 implementations.)

  • Freescale iMX5
  • Ti OMAP 3
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon
  • Nvidia Tegra
  • Zii Labs ZMS08

Product rumors / expectations: CES 2010.

Further reading:

Update: ARM presentation at CES.

I had a chat with ARM at CES and they followed up by sending me a PDF. Here’s one slide from that PDF that is directly relevant here. It lists ‘candidate’ platforms for Mobile Computing. We listed all of these platforms above but it’s good to know what ARM sees at potential platforms.

Click to Enlarge.

Note to PR agencies for ARM ecosystem partners. Put one twitter/web address in the comments and we’ll add it to the further reading list.

If you find the information useful for your work, please consider a small donation to help us continue the work. UMPCPortal is independent and funded purely through donations and advertising revenue.  Many thanks

Updated: 14th Jan 2010

Updated: 18th Jan 2010 (added ARM slide)

Updated: 28 Jan 2010 (added possible Apple licensee (for A4 processor) information.

Updated: 12 May 2010 with more product information

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19 Comments For This Post

  1. PJE says:

    Hi Chippy,

    Nice overview.

    I’ve been looking at a couple of OMAP3 boards for industrial use, and the TI AM3517 would make a nice base for a low end NetTop/Embedded Control device.

    I think a lot of manufacturers are going to be showing their 2010 tablet/slate offerings at CES, as they need to be in the (tech) customer’s heads before Apples expected tablet announcement on my birthday at the end of January.

    I’m actually more interested in a $300ish 7″ Android Tegra2 device such as the ICD Ultra, than the Apple tablet as I prefer to be in control of the device – not the other way round. I also don’t expect Apple to have a UI lead for long as everyone will be cloning the UI on every other device as soon as it’s released.

  2. turn_self_off says:

    i sure hope we see more 4-5″ during CES as so far its been 7-10″ and *books.

    and no, i am not talking phones, altho i fear that will be most likely from a marketing standpoint…

  3. Charbax says:

    Wow, some awesome reading for the airplane on the way to CES…

    I wonder how soon we will see ARM Cortex A9 products. Those are supposed to be even 2x to 4x faster than ARM Cortex A8 yet still use less power. Is Tegra 2 really going to jump over ARM Cortex A8 and deliver A9 already?

    Also ARM Cortex A5 seems to be a lower cost, lower performance chip yet still usable for full web browsing and the likes.

  4. Chippy says:

    As far as i’m aware, Cortex A9 isn’t much more powerful than A8. It’s just that it’s a more advanced ARMv7 implementation and can be configured into multi-core arrangements. In theory, with four cores it can get to about twice the power of a single-core HT Atom but in a much smaller power envelope.

  5. Obble says:

    The A9 should be more powerful as it is out-of-order, where the A8 is largely in-order. This is a similar difference to a Pentium M vs Atom.

  6. HG says:

    I think in the future more devlopers for software will start making software take advantage of multi-core, and then a A9 like Chippy mentions on his great review, it would be able to use less power then a Intel processor and yet have the power of some of Intel’s processors. This would make all these new MID’s, Tablets, Smartphones, and Smartbooks be able to do what most users need to be connected to the internet, email, Office, etc… For example the Archos 5 IT. I have the Viliv S5 with Tablet Edition loaded, see here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JGJhYNdn1tw which works great and has been since I purchased it. I picked up the Archos 5 and did the hack and now I have been able to do what I basically do on the Viliv S5 during the day for my job and its more pocketable than the S5. Don’t get me wrong the S5 is great because I still need that when I use OneNote which I sync to my MacBook and MSI Wind. With the A5 I can use it for GPS, Gmail, Local search of traffic, Weather update, take notes, and tether to my BlackBerry for internet access, which works great. Here is a quick use of the A5 with Google Maps, and some ways of searching while on the road. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ymCAI0kQBxU

    Charbax you’ll be able to use your Archos 5 in the plane to CES 2010 right. ;)

  7. Broty says:

    damn, ARM is confusing, makes x86/x64 seem simple

  8. derek says:

    Cool review! Thanks…..can’t wait for my Pandora to ship by the end of Jan!!!

  9. Loïc Minier says:

    NB: Marvell’s ARMADA isn’t “Cortex A8”. As you note, it’s a different ARMv7 implementation. It has a slighlty different VFP and doesn’t have NEON but another extension called WMMX2.

    I think you did a good job at listing the ARM cores available out there, but these typically come in SoCs for the class of devices you’re interested in; it might be relevant to look into the specifications of the available SoCs. For instance, some Marvell Dove/ARMADA SoCs comes with Bluray-class graphics, SATA, DDR-2 and 3 support and Gigabit Ethernet among other things.

  10. admin says:

    Thanks Loic.
    I listed Armada under ‘other’ ARMv7 but accidentally added the Cortex A8 mention.

    Looking into the platform capabilities is definitely relevant but unfortunately its not the sort of thing that I can do on a free blog. The payback and lost time makes it impossible. I’m working on an ebook so maybe i’ll add it in there.

    Regards
    Steve.

  11. bane says:

    In case someone who’s really knowledgeable about ARM happens to be reading this story: is there any emulator out there for simulating forthcoming ARM chips (particularly NEON stuff) on x86 (preferably runnable on Linux but I could stomach windows…)? I’m not thinking about cycle accurate simulation but more for spotting errors in SIMD code during the bulk of the development (with final testing on an actual physical ARM machine). I’ve had a look around the web but it seems the simulators mentioned are both for earlier chips and for those interested in investigating tweaking micro-level details like instruction scheduling.

    If anyone should happen to have any links, many thanks.

  12. Loïc Minier says:

    Qemu does emulate cortex-a8 with VFPv3 and NEON AFAIK.

  13. Gretchen Glasscock says:

    ARM Products and Platforms Primer and Resource List for Mobile Internet Devices in 2010. (Updated): The ecosystem … http://bit.ly/98jvOS

  14. Steve 'Chippy' Paine says:

    Have just updated my ARM platform primer with some more products (vaporware?) http://bit.ly/bneqK9 (working URL now)

  15. Liam Green-Hughes says:

    RT @chippy: Have just updated my ARM platform primer with some more products (vaporware?) http://bit.ly/bneqK9 (working URL now)

  16. Missy says:

    Steve –

    As always, thanks for the thorough analysis and far-reaching information. With these and other advancements in cue, it’s an incredibly exciting time for the ARM ecosystem, and TI is thrilled to be a part of it all. TI’s OMAP 3 processors, as you mentioned, continue to gain traction both in the mobile market and new spaces. The OMAP 3 processor-based eBook development platform, announced at CES 2010, shows ARM’s potential in this area, for example. OMAP 4 processor-based product timelines depend on customer schedules, but the first devices are expected to hit shelves in early 2011. Here’s to even more outstanding, next-gen mobile use cases.

    Further reading, including new ARM/OMAP processor-related white papers, is provided on TI wireless document center: http://bit.ly/dDvkqU

    We’re excited to keep in touch!
    Missy (GolinHarris Dallas, supporting TI wireless)

  17. chippy says:

    Thanks Missy.
    I’m checking out that link right now.

  18. DAVID L JOHNSON says:

    ARM Products and Platforms Primer and Resource List for Mobile …: There are real-time and highly embedded versio… http://bit.ly/cOpJOK

  19. Realty says:

    Great article! Very informative.

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