ARM's New Ultra-Efficient A7 Processor Can Be The Brains To The A15's Brawn

Brad Chacos

Intel may have the PC processor market in a virtual stranglehold, but on the mobile front, ARM’s low-powered chips have made the company a contender. The diminutive new Cortex A7 processor announced today is one-fifth the size and uses one-fifth the power of the Cortex A8, but ARM has big things planned for it. Not only does the company have eyes on the sub-$100 phone market, but new technology that ARM calls “big.LITTLE processing” could have the A7 serving as a plucky little Robin to the beefier Cortex A15’s Batman.

The cleverly named big.LITTLE technology takes its title from the two chips involved: the A7 is the lowest-powered processor in ARM’s lineup, while the A15 is its performance powerhouse. The company claims that big.LITTLE technology – which requires both of those processors to be in a single phone – improves life all-round by assigned small, easy tasks like calls and audio playback to the energy-efficient A7, then swapping heavy loads over to the A15 on an as-needed basis. Since the power-hungry A15 will be operating much less frequently than normal, battery life will get a big boost.

“This flexible approach of choosing the right processor for the right job enables highly optimized processing which results in significant energy savings for common workloads,” ARM crows in its press release . Don’t expect to see the power savings for quite a while, though: ARM says phones with stand-alone A7 processors won’t appear until 2013 at the earliest, and A15 chips aren’t expected to even start hitting the streets until sometime next year.

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