A decade ago, ARM established the Cortex brand and an associated ecosystem of products stretching from tiny embedded cores suitable for ultra-low-power computing to high-end smartphone products. Over the last ten years, the Cortex family has grown tremendously, transforming ARM from one mobile CPU designer among a number of companies (albeit one of the largest in the space, with MIPS in second place) to the overwhelming market leader. ARM’s mindshare has grown at the same time, and while the company doesn’t enjoy the same brand recognition as Intel at the height of the PC era, there’s no doubt that companies now hype the advantages of new ARM chips much more than they did in years past. Now, ARM wants to take that expertise and apply it to a new infrastructure push — this time, focusing on the IoT and edge computing rather than on smartphones.
The goal of this new push, as the slide says, is to create a support infrastructure capable of handling the sheer number of IoT devices expected to come online in the next few years. For a loose analogy, consider your Wi-Fi router (if you even had one) circa 2006. Most of the devices connected to said router would have been PCs. I’m not ruling out the occasional phone, but most people didn’t have smartphones in 2006 and there wasn’t any point to connecting a feature phone to Wi-Fi, even if feature phones of the day had supported it.
Today, your router likely supports a mélange of tablets, phones, and PCs — along with any game console(s), televisions, smart speakers, and other home appliances. In the Home of the Future™, manufacturers are bracing for a 10x jump in devices, if not more. Meanwhile, the advent of 5G is expected to cause the number of base stations to explode due to range limitations and line-of-sight restrictions. The end result? A trillion or more devices online over the long term that don’t even exist today, from major purchases to the most trivial gadgets.
ARM intends to leverage the same IP blocks it’s using in its smartphones in its embedded products, though obviously, these may have additional customized I/O blocks and other features that wouldn’t normally be found on smartphones. At the heart of the platform are the same CPUs that power its Cortex chips, with the Cosmos platform available today and future products based on node shrinks and additional efficiency improvements. Overall, ARM is claiming it will deliver 30 percent generation-on-generation performance improvements from the Cortex-A72 and A75 today, right through to the Poseidon core built on 5nm and expected to arrive in 2021.
There will also be ecosystem support for capabilities like FPGAs and machine learning co-processors, with support for PCIe, CCIX, and 100G+ ethernet over time, CPUs that scale from simple quad-cores all the way up to 128 “big” cores, up to 128MB of system cache, 1TB/s of bandwidth, and 8 DDR4 channels with support for up to eight HBM stacks. ARM’s foundry partners for the initiative include TSMC, Samsung, and UMC for now, though there’s the possibility for other foundry partners to be added if they move to appropriate nodes (only three firms are currently building on the leading edge, but it’s possible that other foundries will opt to deploy 7nm technology at a later date, as has been the case with 14nm).
The overarching goal is to duplicate ARM’s success in mobile and create a cloud ecosystem capable of matching the kind of infrastructure that only a few companies on Earth really sell. Make no mistake — this is a major shot across the bow of companies like Intel, even if the two firms only compete in some of the areas that the Neoverse will touch. ARM is making a major ecosystem play here. If the company can duplicate the success it had in mobile, it’ll have an incredibly strong position across multiple core markets.
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