ARM’s New Chip Leaves Everyone Else in the Dust, Again

ARM Cortex A-15 MPCore image via ARM

Almost all high-profile mobile devices use a version of ARM’s microprocessor. Samsung, Texas Instruments, and Qualcomm compete to get their chips on different devices, and Apple now makes their own, but all of them license their tech from ARM. Now ARM has announced their next-generation Cortex chip, the A-15, and it’s a doozy.

The new chip was announced at a press conference last night in San Francisco. Eric Schorn, ARM’s vice president of marketing, said, “Today is the biggest thing that has happened to ARM, period.” The chips, which will support up to four processing cores, should appear in consumer devices sometime in 2012.

The big breakthrough for the Cortex A-15 is virtualization. For instance, Samsung’s new Orion chip, which is based on ARM’s Cortex A-9, can send different video images to multiple screens. The A-15 can actually support different operating systems or virtual appliances on those screens. So when VMWare Fusion finally hits your iPad, it might really have something to work with.

Hardware virtualization has traditionally been the hallmark of chips designed to power servers, which frequently have to support different environments; with this chip, ARM is bringing a little bit of the server’s versatility to the smartphone, and (it hopes), some of the power-conserving elements of smartphone chips to servers.

Finally, there’s the markets everywhere in between: tablets, laptops, and home media servers, among others. Om Malik calls the A-15 “a tiny chip with superpowers.” That might not be far off.

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