The Cortex-A15 At CES 2013


The Consumer Electronics Show is just around the corner and it looks like Arm's Cortex-A15 will be a big player in consumer electronics.

Unfortunately I am going to miss this year's Consumer Electronics Show because I have two other shows to attend in January but I have had a chance to chat with pundits and PR people about what is going to be shown. One of the trends of note is the use of Arm's Cortex-A15 architecture in many of the latest and some of the new consumer devices that will be at the show.

The Cortex-A15 specification has been available for ages and there have been a number of instances already on the market. Apple's iPhone 5 has a dual core A6 (see Apple Rolls Its Own Dual Core A6 For The iPhone 5). The A6 is Apple's own design (Fig. 1) but it is essentially a dual Cortex-A15 system.



Figure 1. Apple's A6 is a dual core Arm-based SoC with three GPU cores based on iFixit's teardown of the chip.

It uses the armv7s architecture and supports the VFPv4 floating point instructions. The armv7s architecture what Arm's Cortex-A15 MPCore is based on (see Arm Delivers More Multicore Multimedia).

Another Cortex-A15 platform is Qualcomm's Krait architecture found in the Snapdragon S4 Pro. Dual and quad core Snapdragon S4 Pro chips will be hiding in some of the latest smartphones and tablets at CES. HTC is rumored to have a quad core unit in their phone that is code named M6. NVidia's yet to be release Tegra 4 is likely to have a set of Cortex-A15 cores.

Most expect to see the Cortex-A15 essentially replace the Cortex-A9 for the top end consumer platforms. The dual Cortex-A15 solutions have already ousted quad core Cortex-A9 platforms delivering better battery life. Architecturely, the Cortex-A15 runs a 3-wide decode with out-of-order execution and a 15- to 25-stage pipeline. It runs VFPv4 floating support and doubles the NEON SIMD support to 128-bits.

Cortex-A9 systems will not be going away. I am still looking forward to delivery of my Ouya gaming console based on the NVidia Tegra 3 that is based on a quad core Cortex-A9 (see Ouya Brings $99 Game Console Via Kickstarter).

Later in the year we can expect to hear more about Arm's 64-bit Cortex-A50 architecture in terms of real chips. (see Delivering 64-Bit Arm Platforms). These will initially target the microserver and server markets but the Cortex-A50 architecture will eventually give even the Cortex-A15 a run for its money. Just not this year.

So here's speculation and fun at CES 2013.

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William Wong

Bill Wong covers Digital, Embedded, Systems and Software topics at Electronic Design. He writes a number of columns, including Lab Bench and alt.embedded, plus Bill's Workbench hands-on column....
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