ARM wins more Big.Little licensees

ARM also announces a new licensing model for Big.Little that allows companies to license individual component designs

More companies have signed on for ARM's Big.Little chip design technology, which mixes low-power and power-hungry cores for more efficient energy use of chips in smartphones, tablets, servers and other equipment.

Seventeen companies have so far licensed Big.Little, ARM said in a statement Wednesday. That is a jump from seven companies announced at the Mobile World Congress in February.

Big.Little is meant to preserve battery life on faster smartphones and tablets. Its design reserves high-power cores for demanding tasks like video playback, while the low-power processors take on mundane tasks like answering phone calls or playing audio. That effectively provides power-efficient use of processors and better performance per watt.

Samsung is using the Big.Little design in its Exynos 5 Octa chip, which combines four high-power ARM Cortex-A15 cores with four low-power ARM Cortex-A7 processors. The Octa 5 chip is used in some Samsung Galaxy S4 smartphones. A prototype tablet displayed by ARM at MWC also demonstrated the processor, with the low-power cores largely handling background tasks.

The design will apply to ARM's upcoming 64-bit processors, in which the high-power Cortex-A57 processor design will be mixed with the low-power Cortex-A53 design. ARM has also said it is open to mixing and matching other types of processor designs.

An ARM spokesman did not provide names of the new licensees, saying the list was limited to Samsung, Fujitsu Semiconductor, MediaTek, Renesas Mobile and CSR, who were named at MWC. However, LSI has an implementation of Big.Little, and HiSilicon and Marvell are listed on the Big.Little website.

Seven companies are expected to release chips based on ARM's Big.Little processor technology this year.

There has been some resistance to Big.Little, with ARM's biggest licensees Nvidia and Texas Instruments coming up with their own power-efficient chip designs. Nvidia's "4+1" approach on its Tegra 3 and Tegra 4i chips has four cores handling high-power tasks and one low-power core handling phone calls and SMS delivery.

Agam Shah covers PCs, tablets, servers, chips and semiconductors for IDG News Service. Follow Agam on Twitter at @agamsh. Agam's e-mail address is agam_shah@idg.com

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