Arm Holdings has taken the wraps off its next major chip design, promising a five fold increase in performance that the company hopes will take it beyond smartphones and into new types of equipment such as high performance routers and servers. Arm's top executives launched the Cortex-A15 MPCore at a press conference. The name is supposed to reflect how much of an advance the chip represents; Arm's current designs are the Cortex-A8 and the Cortex-A9.

"This is a huge day for us," said Eric Schorn, Arm's vice president of marketing. "Today is the biggest thing that has happened to Arm, period."

Arm chips are used in most of today's smartphones, including the iPhone and Android-based devices. They are also found in printers, hard disk drives and a myriad of other electronics products. Arm creates the designs for the chips, which are then licensed and manufactured by companies such as Texas Instruments and Samsung.

The A15 is still a long way from shipping in products. In fact, even its predecessor, the Cortex-A9, isn't expected to appear until the end of this year. Smartphones and other devices using the A15 will go on sale toward the end of 2012, Schorn said.

But that's not stopping Arm from making some big claims now. It says the A15 will offer five times the performance of the fastest Arm chip on the market today, a dual core Cortex-A8 running at 1GHz. The A15 will be used to build chips with two, four, eight and possibly 16 processor cores, each running at up to 2.5GHz, Schorn said.

Smartphones will require only single and dual core processors, but Arm hopes more powerful versions of the A15 will open up new markets for its chips. It's eyeing tablet PCs and home media servers in the consumer space, and wireless base stations, high-end routers and servers in the enterprise. It hopes the low power characteristics that Arm chips are known for will persuade device manufacturers to use the A15 in new products. It's not saying yet how much power it will draw, however, only that the A15 will have a "comparable energy footprint" to its current designs.

The A15 marks "a big leap forward" for Arm, said industry analyst Nathan Brookwood, of Insight64. "Clearly this chip was architected to handle tasks that were beyond the capabilities of the current design," he said.

It will be able to run virtualised operating systems, which could allow smartphone users to switch between two operating environments, one for home use and one for work, for example. It could also make it easier for operators and application developers to update their software in the field, without having to work with device manufacturers.

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