ARM just sent a not-so-subtle warning to Android phone makers still hanging on to 32-bit technology. The company has introduced its first lineup of CPU core designs that are exclusively 64-bit — unlike last year, there's no legacy tech for vendors to use. The Cortex-X4, Cortex-A720 and Cortex-A520 don't always represent major leaps in performance, but they're likely to set the pace for Android in the near future.
The Cortex-X4, like the X3, is a performance core aimed at flagship phones. Its updated architecture delivers a 15 percent claimed higher performance, but uses 40 percent less power than its predecessor. That translates to faster app launches and a more responsive interface, according to ARM. We also wouldn't be surprised if this led to improved battery life in games and other intensive tasks.
Meanwhile, the Cortex-A720 is a sequel to the A715 "middle" core that handles most computing chores. While it is faster, the focus is on longevity. ARM claims the A720 is over 20 percent more power efficient than last year's design. Chipmakers can even use a smaller 'entry' version to cut costs or shrink their hardware.
We wouldn't discount the Cortex-A520 efficiency core. While it's ultimately meant for background processing and other low-demand duties, it's reportedly 22 percent more efficient than the A510 it's replacing while managing eight percent better performance. Your phone might last longer even if you aren't a heavy-duty user.
Yes, ARM is also paying attention to graphics performance. It's simultaneously launching Immortalis-G720, Mali-G720 and Mali-G620 GPU designs that again offer more performance with a reduced power draw. They notably introduce a deferred vertex shading (DVS) pipeline that uses much less bandwidth (33 percent less in the demanding Genshin Impact), leaving room for more complex scenes and HDR visuals. The Immortalis is said to offer an average 15 percent jump in performance over its predecessor, even as it's 15 percent more efficient. It supports 10 or more cores, while the Mali-G720 supports six to nine cores. The G620 is the budget offering with five cores or less.
ARM hasn't named customers. As virtually the entire mobile industry is built around ARM, though, we'd expect Qualcomm, MediaTek and others to use the new Cortex designs as starting points for their next system-on-chip models. Whether or not Apple uses it isn't clear. Although Apple uses ARM, it hasn't yet made the leap to the newer ARMV9 architecture.
It's safe to say this will influence the Android market, at least. While Apple cut off support for 32-bit hardware and apps with iOS 11's release in 2017, AnandTech notes that Android has moved relatively slowly, with Chinese brands like Oppo and Xiaomi holding on to 32-bit capable SoCs for a particularly long time. The new ARM range effectively pushes those companies to upgrade — either they use pure 64-bit SoCs or risk being left behind.