New ARM embedded chip architecture aimed at cars, hospitals, factories

The ARMv8-R architecture could improve the performance of vehicle brakes, medical devices and factory systems

A new ARM architecture for embedded chips could boost the power and precision of systems used in a variety of products, including car brakes, medical devices and factory systems.

The ARMv8-R architecture, announced on Wednesday, will let companies make embedded chips that are faster and more power-efficient, according to ARM.

The need for faster chips is essential as small electronic devices in hospitals, vehicles, factories and even casinos take on multimedia, wireless communication and other tasks.

The chips based on this new architecture will be able to automate more operations and handle more advanced communication features, according to ARM.

ARM processors are used in most smartphones and tablets today, including Apple's iPhones and iPads. In 2011, the company announced ARMv8-A, its first 64-bit architecture, which is the basis for Apple's A7 chip in the iPad Air and iPhone 5S.

For now the ARMv8-R architecture variant utilizes a 32-bit instruction set but includes many other new features of the ARMv8 architecture, an ARM spokesman said in an e-mail.

There is a growing focus on embedded chips due to the proliferation of wearable technology, entertainment devices and connected devices like sensors. Intel introduced the Quark chip based on the x86 architecture in September, and Advanced Micro Devices announced ARM and x86 embedded chips the same month. The embedded chip market is considered to be a fast-growing sector for chip makers as market leader MIPS fades. Freescale and Texas Instruments also provide embedded chips based on ARM processors.

Many electronic systems also use microcontroller units (MCUs) to perform necessary functions. MCUs are smaller and have less flexibility on functionality, but have a faster response time. Atmel is one of the leading MCU providers.

Though the end users will see the benefits of ARMv8-R, chip designers will also benefit. A new feature on ARM's embedded architecture is the support for virtualization, which allows chips to handle more real-time tasks via virtual machines. The architecture provides a bare-metal hypervisor on chips, which can handle the virtual machine functions and deployments without the need of a rich or real-time operating system.

ARM's upcoming 64-bit Cortex-A57 and A53 application processors based on ARMv8-A have full virtualization support, and previous embedded chips like the Cortex-R4, Cortex-R5 and Cortex-R7, which are based on the older ARMv7-R architecture, lacked complete bare-metal hypervisor and virtualization support. Some Cortex-M series processors are also used in embedded systems, though they draw more power.

One architectural layer in ARMv8-R involves running instances of multiple operating systems simultaneously on a chip to support multiple tasks. The architecture supports real-time operating systems and lightweight versions of Linux.

The architecture also has support for advanced instructions and basic data packet error correction, which are also found in application processors used in smartphones and tablets.

ARM did not comment on when chips based on the architecture will reach the market, but the company will announce new processors based on ARMv8-R in the future. More details about the architecture will be shared at ARM's TechCon conference, which is being held in Santa Clara, California, from Oct. 29 to 31.

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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Agam Shah

IDG News Service
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