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MWC: ARM says different cores in multi-core chips are possible

Just like a Woolies pick 'n mix
Wed Feb 16 2011, 13:19

CHIP DESIGNER ARM said it will be possible to mix and match different cores in its future chips.

ARM licenses its chip designs to all of the big embedded chip designers including Qualcomm, Texas Instruments, Nvidia and Broadcom among others. Three of those firms announced new chips based on ARM designs at Mobile World Congress, with multi-core being the buzzword.

However, the conventional wisdom is that all the cores on a dual or quad-core chip are identical, but according to Bob Morris, director of mobile computing at ARM, that need not be so.

While Morris demonstrated the advantages of a dual core ARM Cortex A9 chip over a single core variant, he said that there is nothing in ARM's design that would stop a firm such as Qualcomm from making a dual core chip consisting of, say, a Cortex A9 core and a Cortex A5 core to hit a specific power rating.

Morris said that multi-core chips are not just the preserve of gamers but that running multiple cores at lower voltages provides significantly lower power usage.

In a demonstration to The INQUIRER, ARM ran a real-time benchmark consisting of loading a number of websites in a loop. Not surprisingly the dual core chip finished the benchmark first, in around 44 seconds compared to the single core variant's 55 seconds, but the dual core chip utilisation during the benchmark had far fewer 100 per cent utilisation peaks.

These peaks are important not only because the chip draws the most power when it is 'maxed out' but because power leakage is at its highest, explained Morris. The idea of multi-core chips is to minimise the number of times a single core hits 100 per cent utilisation.

The ability to mix and match cores will mean that firms can run less powerful cores for tasks such as music playback but engage more power hungry cores when more compute heavy applications such as games are run.

So while companies are promoting multi-core chips for gaming and 3D video, they can also be used for the less glamourous but more useful goal of increasing battery life. µ


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