Cambridge-based chip designer ARM hopes that the latest version of its Big.Little chip architecture will see strong uptake next year in mid-range smartphones sold in emerging markets.
In order to preserve battery life, the Big.Little chip design mixes low-power and power-hungry cores for more efficient energy use of chips in smartphones, tablets, servers and other equipment.
The design reserves high-power cores for demanding tasks like video playback, while the low-power processors take on mundane tasks like answering phone calls or playing audio. This effectively provides power-efficient use of processors and better performance per watt.
A version of the UK-developed technology is currently built into Samsung’s Exynos 5 Octa chip, which is used in some of its flagship S4 devices. The Exynos chip features four high-powered ARM Cortex-A15 processors paired with four less powerful ARM Cortex-A7 processors.
But ARM marketing director Ian Smythe told Techworld that the latest update to the chip architecture – dubbed Big.Little MP – is particularly well suited to budget and mid-range smartphones that will go on sale in developing countries next year.
“The flexibility of Global Task Switching with Big.Little MP enables the implementation of different numbers of big and little processors,” added Smythe. “So architectures such as one big and four little are now viable where as earlier versions of Big.Little models required an identical number of big and little cores.
“This clearly allows our partnership even more diverse performance and cost tradeoffs when designing the system on chip (SoCs).”
Smythe said the Big.Little MP chip design would enable inexpensive smartphones to deliver unparalleled processing power without consuming too much battery life – an important factor in developing countries where electricity isn’t as readily available as it is in first world countries.
There has been some resistance to Big.Little, with ARM's biggest licensees Nvidia and Texas Instruments coming up with their own power-efficient chip designs. Nvidia's "4+1" approach on its Tegra 3 and Tegra 4i chips has four cores handling high-power tasks and one low-power core handling phone calls and SMS delivery.
Over 95 percent of all smartphones are built on ARM’s chip technology but the London-listed firm is aiming to introduce its designs to an increasing range of devices. This was highlighted last week when the firm acquired “Internet of Things” software provider, Sensinode.