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ARM's latest processor design puts fast 4K graphics on your phone

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You've probably heard no end of hype for 4K video on TVs and computers, and now it's about to invade your phone... at least, so long as ARM has its way. The company just took the wraps off of Cortex-A72, a processor reference design that promises a huge boost to computing power, especially when graphics come into play. Thanks to updates that include optimizations for an efficient 16-nanometer chipmaking process, 30 percent more memory performance and an 80 percent speedier graphics core (the Mali-T880), the A72 is about 3.5 times more powerful than ARM's earlier Cortex-A15. That's beefy enough to record 4K video at an extra-smooth 120 frames per second -- many current smartphones only manage 30FPS at best. You should get "console-class" gaming, too, and there's a promise of Google Now-style natural voice commands that don't depend on a distant server to interpret what you're saying.

The design should be more miserly across the board, too. It uses about 75 percent less energy than its A15 ancestor when it's at a similar performance level, and even the graphics use about 40 percent less power. And as you might expect, it's built to take advantage of both ARM's established big.LITTLE tech (which switches to lower-power CPU cores for lighter workloads) and 64-bit platforms like Android 5.0 Lollipop.

You'll have to be patient if you want to try any of this first-hand, though. Huawei (HiSilicon), MediaTek and Rockchip have already signed up to make A72-based processors, but ARM doesn't expect the first shipping hardware until sometime in 2016. This is more of a preview of what's possible than anything else. It's up to chip and phone builders to translate what ARM has made into something you'll appreciate, whether you're making 4K home movies or playing intensive shoot-em-ups.

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