ARM unveils Cortex-A7 processor, 'big.LITTLE' computing

Fancy a glimpse of the future? That little psychedelic beauty on the right is ARM's brand new Cortex-A7 processor. Its spec sheet might not seem so colorful at first glance, because it doesn't really do things any faster than existing high-end smartphone processors. However, this UK-based chip designer isn't known for bumping its gums, so it pays to look a little deeper. For a start, the Cortex-A7 is built using a 28nm process that makes it five times smaller and more efficient than the current-gen Cortex-A8. It's also cheap enough to power sub-$100 handsets, so we could be pulling GSII-like tricks on budget phones within a couple of years.

Is that it? Nope, there's more: perhaps the most important feature of the A7 is that it can be combined with much higher-power cores like the Cortex-A15 side-by-side on the same chip. This allows a super-phone or tablet to switch between two totally different processing units depending on how much power is needed at the time. ARM calls this "Big.LITTLE" computing," and a similar concept is already in use on NVIDIA's Tegra 3 (aka Kal-El) SoC, which we'll see imminently in the next Asus Transformer. However, the Tegra 3 uses five identical Cortex-A9 cores, whereas a device that mix-and-matches the A15 and A7 could potentially deliver higher highs and lower lows, giving you speed when you need it and amazing battery life when you don't. How cute is that? Full PR after the break.

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ARM Unveils Its Most Energy Efficient Application Processor Ever; Redefines Traditional Power and Performance Relationship with big.LITTLE Processing

Addresses one of today's industry challenges: extending consumers' always on, always connected mobile experience with both improved performance AND longer battery life

CAMBRIDGE, United Kingdom--(BUSINESS WIRE)--ARM today announced the ARM® Cortex™-A7 MPCore™ processor - the most energy-efficient application class processor ARM has ever developed, and big.LITTLE processing - a flexible approach that redefines the traditional power and performance relationship. The Cortex-A7 processor builds on the low-power leadership established by the Cortex-A8 processor that is at the heart of many of today's most popular smartphones. A single Cortex-A7 processor delivers 5x the energy-efficiency and is one fifth the size of the Cortex-A8 processor, while providing significantly greater performance. The Cortex-A7 processor will enable a rich user experience in sub-$100 entry level smartphones and help connect the next billion people in developing markets.

"The market's demand for more functionality and connectivity with low power consumption requires ever more advanced processor, system and chip design"

One of today's technology most significant challenges is how to create a System on Chip (SoC) that meets the conflicting consumer demand for devices with both higher-performance AND extended battery life. Big.LITTLE processing, enabled by Cortex-A7, achieves this by pairing the best of the high-performance Cortex-A15 MPCore and ultra-efficient Cortex-A7 processors. Big.LITTLE processing allows devices to seamlessly select the right processor for the right task, based on performance requirements. Importantly, this dynamic selection is transparent to the application software or middleware running on the processors.

ARM Partners supporting these technologies include Broadcom, Compal, Freescale, HiSilicon, LG Electronics, Linaro, OK Labs, QNX, Red Bend, Samsung, Sprint, ST-Ericsson and Texas Instruments. Quotes and video comments can be found below and at

Mobile usage has changed significantly and today consumers are increasingly using their smartphone for the majority of their connected lives. This includes high-performance tasks, such as web browsing, navigation and gaming, and less demanding 'always on, always connected' background tasks, such as voice calls, social networking and email services. As a result, the mobile phone has become an indispensable compute device for many consumers. At the same time, new mobile form factors, such as tablets, are redefining computing platforms in response to consumer demand. This is creating new ways for consumers to interact with content and brings what was once only possible on a tethered device to the mobile world.

By developing big.LITTLE processing and the Cortex-A7 processor, ARM has addressed the challenge for technology that can deliver both high-performance, required for content creation and consumption, while also delivering extreme power efficiency for extended battery life. This is particularly pertinent as smartphones and tablets continue to evolve into the primary platforms that consumers use to interact with our increasingly connected world.

Cortex-A7 - extending ARM low-power leadership

The efficiency of the ARM architecture is the reason why ARM processors use less power and occupy a smaller footprint. The Cortex-A7 processor occupies less than 0.5mm2, using 28nm process technology, and provides compelling performance in both single and multicore configurations. Used as a stand-alone processor, the Cortex-A7 will deliver sub-$100 entry level smartphones in the 2013-2014 timeframe with an equivalent level of processing performance to today's $500 high-end smartphones.

The ARM vision of the entry level smartphone market is to redefine usage in the developing world by helping connect the next billion people to Internet content and services over mobile devices.
big.LITTLE processing – the right processor for the right job

Big.LITTLE processing combines two different, but compatible processors within the same SoC and allows the power management software to seamlessly select the right processor, or multiple processors, for the right task. The processors appear identical from an applications software perspective.

The 'LITTLE', lowest-power processor – in this case, the Cortex-A7 - runs the Operating System (OS) and applications for basic always-on, always connected tasks, such as social media and audio playback. The OS and apps can then be seamlessly migrated to the higher-performance processor as demands increase for high end tasks, such as navigation and gaming. The time for this migration is in the order of 20 microseconds.

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.
System IP and tools ensures coherency and optimization for multicore solutions
The efficient and seamless switching of workloads between the two processors is supported by advanced ARM system IP, such as AMBA® 4 ACE Coherency Extensions. This ensures full cache, I/O and processor-to-processor coherency between the Cortex-A15 and Cortex-A7, and across the complete system. Software and applications can therefore continue to run unhindered, and unnoticed by the user, as the tasks are rebalanced to provide the optimum big.LITTLE user experience.

Big.LITTLE power management software is developed by ARM ecosystem partners months ahead of silicon availability using ARM DS-5 tools and Fast Model virtual prototyping technology. The virtual platform, available now to lead partners, contains the Cortex-A15 and Cortex-A7 processors, as well as cache coherent interconnect System IP, allowing full system software development.

For more information go to:
• big.LITTLE processing:
• Cortex-A7:

Supporting ARM and ARM Partner Quotes


"As smartphones and tablets continue to evolve into users' primary compute device, consumers are demanding performance as well as the always on, always connected service they expect. The challenge for our industry and the ARM ecosystem is how to deliver on this," said Mike Inglis, Executive Vice President, Processor Division, ARM. "The introduction of Cortex-A7 and big.LITTLE addresses this challenge and extends ARM's technology leadership by setting a new standard for energy-efficient processors and redefining the traditional power and performance relationship."

"ARM is continuing to push the boundaries of power and performance with the launch of its new Cortex-A7 Processor IP," said Martyn Humphries, Vice President & General Manager, Mobile Applications Processor Business Unit, Broadcom. "The power optimized multicore approach enabled by Cortex-A7 drives enhanced capabilities in mobile devices and ultimately a better user experience."

"The market's demand for more functionality and connectivity with low power consumption requires ever more advanced processor, system and chip design," said Leonard Tsai, Vice President, Innovation of Compal Electronics, INC. "We believe this new Cortex-A7 processor and the new big.LITTLE technology from ARM will provide the significant increase in energy efficiency and performance required to redefine the level of experience consumers can expect from future smartphones and mobile computing devices."

"As the market advances, there is an increasing need for low-power, higher-performance processing to deliver optimal user experiences across a broad range of markets," said Bernd Lienhard, vice president and general manager of Freescale's Multimedia Applications Division. "ARM Cortex-A7 technology, coupled with big.LITTLE processing and Freescale's multicore expertise will enable us to innovate and deliver exciting new products to our customers."

"The next wave of mobile phones and portable computing devices will continue to extend the end-user experience through exciting new features that demand superior processing power combined with long battery life," said George Yiu, HiSilicon. "The low-power and performance of the Cortex-A7 processor, and the development of big.LITTLE processing when combined with the Cortex-A15, will enable our customers to deliver leading edge mobile devices which provide a superior, always-on, mobile computing experience."

LG Electronics:
"ARM continues to raise the bar in performance and energy-efficiency for mobile and battery operated applications by introducing the ARM Cortex-A7 processor," said Bo-ik Sohn, Vice President and the head of LG Electronics SIC Center. "The Cortex-A7 processor's ability to work together with the Cortex-A15 processor in a big.LITTLE configuration will help address the high-performance and low-power requirements of OEMs to deliver the optimum user experience for next generation mobile phones and mobile computing devices."

"Linaro is working closely with ARM and its other members to ensure that Linux-based systems have full access to all the features that multi-processor ARM-Powered systems can provide, including security, high performance and the best power efficiency," commented George Grey, CEO, Linaro. "Our ongoing support for the new Cortex-A7 processor, and the big.LITTLE systems that it will enable, will further increase the prevalence of energy-efficient, high-performance systems for future consumer and enterprise devices."

OK Labs:
"OK Labs virtualization helps device manufacturers realize the full potential of Cortex-A7 processor capabilities," noted Steve Subar, OK Labs founder and CEO. "Cortex-A7 and OKL4 together boast scalable performance and enable low power operation and the single and multicore big.LITTLE paradigm."

"Once again, ARM has proven that it can deliver the potent mix of high-performance and low-power demanded by our customers in the automotive and medical industries," said Linda Campbell, director of strategic alliances at QNX Software Systems. "We're especially excited by the energy efficiency and multicore capabilities of the Cortex-A7 processor, which give customers the freedom to scale processing power as their designs evolve."

Red Bend:
"The unmatched combination of ARM's vision for a connected world and expertise in processor design are the reasons its technology drives virtually every mobile handset in use today," said Yoram Salinger, CEO of Red Bend Software. "The advanced devices enabled by ARM's big.LITTLE processing will change how we live and work. Red Bend is uniquely positioned to leverage the virtualization extensions in ARM's processors and bring the most comprehensive Mobile Software Management solutions to device manufacturers and service providers, the automotive industry, enterprises and other markets. We are proud to be ARM's partner and work to improve the mobile user experience worldwide."

"The race is on to put a high-performance, power-efficient supercomputer in the palm of the consumer's hand." said John Kalkman, vice president, Samsung Semiconductor, Inc. "We are pleased to be partnering with ARM as they redefine the power/performance equation in mobile computing. By combining innovative technology leadership from both companies, SoC designers will have the right application processor to deliver always-on, always-connected mobile computing for future devices."

"Battery consumption is an important factor with the use of smartphones, especially with the exponential growth of data use that we are seeing today. The ARM Cortex-A7 processor and big.LITTLE processing have great potential to help increase smartphone performance and energy efficiency." - Von McConnell, director of Innovation and Advanced Labs for Sprint.

"We have entered an era where wireless computing solutions bring 3D navigation, mobile augmented reality, HD video and other advanced capabilities effortlessly to a growing number of consumers," said Marc Cetto, Senior Vice President, Smartphone & Tablet Solutions at ST-Ericsson. "The combination of the new energy efficient Cortex-A7 with the high performance Cortex-A15 processor in ARM's big.LITTLE configuration will enable smartphone and tablet manufacturers to build power-efficient devices with new levels of performance."

Texas Instruments:
"TI's OMAP™ platform success relies on superior mobile computing at ultra-low power to deliver extraordinary experiences on smartphones, tablets and ultrathin laptops. Our mobile processors' smart multicore architectures have long been complementing main ARM processors with specialized engines and accelerators better suited to perform certain tasks at the lowest possible power. We are excited to see ARM's introduction of Cortex-A7 with big.LITTLE processing. We see it as a natural continuation of our innovative approach to smart mobile computing as it presents new opportunities to advance the industry overall enabling even lower power general purpose CPU performance," said Remi El-Ouazzane, vice president, OMAP platform business unit, Texas Instruments.