ARM unwraps its most powerful mobile chip yet, headed for phones and tablets next year

The Cortex-A72 will provide 3.5 times the performance of ARM's current Cortex-A15 design, the company says

The company that powers your smartphones and tablets has introduced its most powerful chip design yet, the Cortex-A72, which should find its way into gadgets early next year.

ARM says the A72 will provide 3.5 times the performance of its current Cortex-A15 design, which is widely used in phones and tablets today.

ARM doesn't make chips itself. It comes up with designs that it licenses to others for manufacture. Those designs dominate the smartphone and tablet markets, though Samsung is also a big player and Intel is doing its best to catch up.

The A72 will help to enable continued improvements in areas like mobile gaming, voice control and video streaming, including 4K 120-frame-per-second video streaming on the go, ARM says.

One reason ARM's CPU designs have been so successful is because they consume very little power, which is vital for mobile gadgets. Batteries haven't advanced much in the last five years, but CPU performance has increased by leaps and bounds, in part because of new designs like the one launched Tuesday.

Chip manufacturing techniques also deserve a lot of the credit, and the Cortex-A72 is designed to be manufactured on a new 16-nanometer process, which allows for smaller, faster transistors.

The new chip will run at up to 2.5GHz in smartphones and up to 3.5GHz in tablets, ARM said.

The Cortex-A72 isn't only aimed at smartphones; virtual-reality headset maker Oculus joined ARM at its press conference to say it can offer better graphics experiences thanks to its new chips. ARM is also trying to find its way into servers, network equipment and other products, though its still a newcomer there.

ARM also introduced a new graphics chip design Tuesday, the Mali-T880. ARM isn't a leader in GPUs, but it's growing its share of the market and the new graphics part will help with those efforts.

It also updated its CoreLink technology for linking chips together. The new CCI-500 Cache Coherent Interconnect will move data in and out of the CPU up to twice as fast as the current iteration, which will help with applications like gaming.

That interconnect has been a bottleneck in the past, which is why ARM announced it in conjunction with the new chip design Tuesday, said Chief Marketing Officer Ian Drew.

James Niccolai covers data centers and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow James on Twitter at @jniccolai. James's e-mail address is james_niccolai@idg.com

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