ARM technology in Apple's A7, A8 chips gets an upgrade

ARM says first test chips based on ARMv8.1-A architecture will come out in the second half of next year

The processor architecture behind Apple's A7 and A8 chips is getting an incremental upgrade.

ARM, whose processor designs are used in most mobile devices, is adding features to its ARMv8.1-A architecture that could improve the security and speed of chips.

The new architecture is an upgrade from the existing ARMv8-A, which is in Apple's A8 and also chips for Android devices.

The impact of these changes will be felt more on larger systems than mobile devices, said David Brash, architecture program director at ARM's Architecture and Technology Group, in a blog entry.

The new features could impact performance on servers, a new market for ARM. Advanced Micro Devices, Cavium, AppliedMicro and Qualcomm are among a handful of companies that have made or are investigating ARM-based server chips.

The first test chips from the new ARMv8.1-A architecture are expected next year, which is also when upgrades will also be made to the Linux kernel and software development tools.

Apple, which made the first 64-bit mobile chip based on ARMv8-A, will likely jump to the new architecture. It usually takes time for a new processor architecture to appear in devices, as exemplified by ARMv8-A, which was introduced in 2011 and appeared in the iPhone 5S last year.

"It is important to recognize that introduction of these enhancements into new cores will take several years, and other design choices can have a much greater impact on system performance," Brash wrote.

ARM currently has 57 ARMv8-A processor and architecture licenses, and more products like 64-bit Android tablets and smartphones are expected to appear in the coming years.

The incremental updates in ARMv8.1-A revolve around memory addressing, security, virtualization and throughput. ARMv8-A code will run on v8.1 cores.

ARM made the instruction-set architecture upgrades by working with partners, Brash wrote in the blog entry.

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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