Less than a decade after desktop processors broke the 1GHz barrier, smartphones are set to muscle up. Among them will be devices powered by Samsung’s ARM chips, such as the iPhone.
Just how fast does a smartphone really need to be? Fleeter of foot than today’s models, if recent trends are anything to go by.
The push towards multimedia, HSDPA and increased reliance on raw computational power may be encapsulated by the iPhone but every smartphone manufacturer is facing the same challenges. And today’s 600MHz powerplants are unlikely to be good enough for tomorrow’s smartphones.
Samsung this week announced a new 1GHz ARM processor, co-developed with US chip design firm Intrinsity, from the same family as the 600MHz Samsung which which powers Apple’s iPhone 3GS. (Although it’s worth noting that this is in fact an 800MHz chip that’s been wound back to 600MHz in order to reduce heat and extend battery life).
Codenamed ‘Hummingbird’, the new chip is said to be compatible with the Samsung S5PC100 processor used in the iPhone 3GS as well as using the same Cortex A8 engine (and ARM v7 architecture).
In addition to clocking at 1GHz, the Hummingbird has been designed on a 45 nanometer manufacturing process – the same scale as used in the latest crop of Intel chips – which also increases power efficiency, leading to longer battery life for devices.
Samsung isn’t the first to produce a 1GHz ARM chip – that medal went to Qualcomm, which already supplies a 1GHz processor for a Toshiba smartphone. Competitor Texas Instruments has also announced that its future series of multi-core OMAP chips will hit 1GHz.
However, even if Samsung’s 1GHz superchip does find its way into the iPhone of 2010, this could be a last blast for the Korean colossus.
Apple is now working on its own processors, based on the company’s acquisition of chip design firm P.A. Semi last year, with recent reports that the team has been split into two groups – one dedicated to an ARM processor for the iPhone, while the other beavers away on an even more capable chip for the long-rumoured Apple media pad tablet thingie.