ARM fills out mid-range line with new A12 processor

This chip will be competitive with products on the market now when it ships in 18 months.

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ARM has seemed like an unstoppable force, but it in fact has a significant hole in its product line. On the low end, you have the Coretex A9, used mostly in smartphones like the iPhone 4S and Samsung Galaxy S3 that has been on the market for several years. On the high end, there is the power-hungry Coretx A15, used in devices like the Nexus 10 and Galaxy S4.

But there's been this hole in the middle, right where Atom sits, as well as Qualcomm's Krait line. This is for devices that need a SoC with more power than the A9 but nowhere near the power consumption of the A15.

So, ARM Holdings has introduced that fix at the Computex show. Sort of. The A12 will fill in that gap in the product line when it ships in mid-2014. Of course, Intel and Qualcomm are not about to sit still in the meantime and will be at least one generation ahead by then. It just shows that as strong as ARM has become, when it comes down to engineering, it still can't match Intel or Qualcomm.

ARM is positioning the Cortex A12 as a replacement for the A9, going into mainstream smartphones and tablets in the $200 to $350 price range that are more concerned about power consumption than performance. The quad-core A12 is expected to cut power consumption by up to 40% from the A9, which is five years old, while still running 30% faster.

Here's the really important part for me: Cortex A12 also adds support for 40-bit memory addressability which gives it up to 1TB of addressable memory. The Coretex A9 has been held back because it's a 32-bit processor limited to 4GB of memory. Who cares if it's not full 64-bit with its 16TB of accessibility, 1TB is more than enough. ARM will release the ARMv8 next year with full 64-bit support.

ARM also announced the Mali-T622 and Mali-V500 graphics processor units (GPU), which can be paired with the A12 processor. The two chips have separate purposes and both can be paired with a single CPU. The T622 can render high-definition video and supports standards like OpenCL 1.1 and OpenGL ES 3.0. The Mali-V500 is specifically designated to handle video encoding and decoding, taking the load off the more power-hungry CPU and GPU.

Read more of Andy Patrizio's Chip Shots blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Andy on Twitter at @apatrizio. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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