It is not much of a stretch to say that ARM has had a pretty impressive run for the past 10 years since we started paying attention to the company from a consumer point of view. It took 22 years for ARM to power 50 billion chips that had been shipped. It took another 4 years to hit the next 50 billion. Now ARM expects to ship around 100 billion chips in the next four years.
Last year we saw the introduction of multiple technologies from ARM in the shape of the latest Cortex-A CPUs and a new generation of Mali GPUs. ARM has been near the forefront of applying their designs to the latest, cutting edge process technologies offered by Samsung and TSMC. This change of pace has been refreshing considering that a few years ago they would announce a new architecture and expect to see it in new phones and devices about 3 years from that point. Intel attempted a concerted push into mobile and ARM responded by tightening up their portfolio and aggressively pushing release dates.
This year appears no different for ARM as we expect new technologies to be announced again later this year that will update their offerings as well as process technology partnerships with the major pure-play foundries. The first glimpse of what we can expect is ARM's announcement today of their DynamIQ technology.
DynamIQ can be viewed as a portfolio of technologies that will power the next generation of ARM CPUs, GPUs, and potentially accelerators. This encompasses power delivery, power control, connectivity, and topologies.
The most visible aspect of this technology is the new single cluster design. Previous clusters in big.LITTLE implementations were a bit more static in what they could achieve. Certain numbers of CPUs had to be present, power delivery was not granular, and most power savings were due to turning off CPU cores. ARM has changed this with DynamIQ. It now allows up to eight CPU cores of different capabilities. It also allows a great amount of flexibility in what cores it uses in any type of numbers that a partner decides they need. If a partner determines that their usage case requires 1 big core, 3 small cores, and a dedicated media accelerator then it has the ability to design such a SoC without limitations.
Power is one of the primary driving factors of mobile performance and ARM is addressing this straight one. Previous clusters could not dynamically change power per CPU, except of course if they were asleep. Now there is individual control of each CPU in the cluster so it can have unique clock and power characteristics.
ARM is allowing the use of specialized accelerators provided by 3rd party designers that can be integrated into DynamIQ designs. Previously this was not possible with ARM designs and it took guys like Qualcomm with an ISA license to develop their own specialized units. ARM is opening up DynamIQ so partners can develop their own accelerators and attach it to the shared bus without any legal or license rammifications.
There are some caveats for implementing this technology. Previous Cortex cores will not be able to work in DynamIQ. This technology is fundamentally different from previous implementations and requires a low level rework on the cores and their caches. So this means that we will see new cores being introduced this year that will fit on the DynamIQ platform. These new cores will be backwards compatible with previous ARM cores, but previous ARM cores will not be able to be integrated into DynamIQ. The ISA will be updated to ARMv8.2, but it is still AMBA compliant.
Memory speeds and power consumption will also be addressed in this release. ARM promises greater performance from memory as well as core to core communications. This also includes good memory performance to third party accelerators that attach to DynamIQ. ARM is not looking to kneecap their partners with limitations on core complexes and external accelerators. This will make the platform more desirable to those wishing to address growing markets such as self-driving autos, deep learning, and AI applications.
ARM continues to be the primary player in the mobile market and they work closely with their partners throughout the world to improve power consumption, performance, and flexibility. DynamIQ is the first big shot of the year from ARM, but looking at what they have discussed here we can expect many more announcements to come.