Earlier this week, at Computex 2019 in Taipei, Taiwan, the world’s largest tech conference focused on the PC industry, Arm unveiled its latest microprocessor (CPU) architecture, the Cortex-A77, that will be used in the next generation of flagship smartphones starting from the end of the year and throughout 2020.
The announcement doesn’t come as a surprise as the British chip design firm usually reveals its latest CPU cores around this time of year.
However, after a three-year hiatus, Arm also introduced the next-generation architecture of its graphics processor design (GPU), the Mali-G77—codenamed out of the Norwegian mythological hall, Valhall, by Arm’s GPU team which is located in Norway—as well as a new dedicated Artificial Intelligence (AI) processor or NPU (Neural Processing Unit), the Arm ML (Machine Language) processor.
“This entire suite of products is going to allow our partners to build world-class devices and go into the next generation handsets that will be 5G enabled for a quite significant step up in terms of performance,” said Rene Haas, the president of Arm’s IP Product Group (IPG) during the company’s press conference at Computex.
The UK-based Arm, now owned by Japan’s Softbank, claims that the Cortex-A77 offers a 20% performance uplift from the previous generation Cortex-A76 and is designed to be used in smartphones, tablets but also laptops.
“And in fact, when you go back to 2013, which was the first Computex I attended being part of Arm, this CPU [the Cortex-A77] is about 4 times performance on the big core,” added Haas. “So, it’s a huge jump in performance which will also enable all kind of ML and virtual reality (VR) experiences.”
Haas also confirmed that the new chip designs will ship inside “5G smartphones in 2020.”
Arm is playing catch-up to Apple, Qualcomm in graphics performance
On the graphics side, Arm said that the Mali-G77 GPU brings an overall 40% increase in performance over the previous generation with “significant uplift in terms of performance for rendering, for mobile gaming which continues to be a very taxing work case for these devices.”
“But also, the Mali-G77 device will be able to allow for increased ML performance as well, a 60% ML uplift over the previous generation,” said Haas. “We’ve done a lot of optimizations through libraries, and through performance analysis, and all these things have really driven tremendous experience in terms of the overall GPU.”
In his presentation, Haas also acknowledged the British company’s effort to deliver new chip designs, CPU and GPU, on time and in-sync with the market.
“It’s really very important to make sure that not only do we have a world-class CPU, sort of a world-class GPU, one of the things that changed in our strategy inside Arm a couple years ago, was really trying to get to a platform-aligned focus with all the products,” said Haas. “Not only that means, getting the performance benchmarks, but making sure we were there on schedule to have the products when our partners needed them: The same time that we release a high-end GPU, we want to have a high-end CPU at the same time. So all that lines up.”
Atherton Research’s Take
Although Arm’s next-generation processors will find their way in upcoming system-on-chips (SoCs) designed by MediaTek, Qualcomm, and Samsung by the end of this year, most likely in the December timeframe, we don’t expect the first 5G smartphones with the Cortex-A77 to ship before the first quarter of 2020.
Now, a big unknown is if Huawei and its HiSilicon chip design division will have access to these new chip designs for the upcoming Kirin 990 which would normally ship in the fall, if not for the U.S. government ban. However, we believe that Arm has already shared all the technical details with HiSilicon to manufacture their next chip at Taiwan-based TSMC, the world’s largest contract chipmaker and that it has the internal capabilities to fix the chip in case of bugs and other problems. Of course, time will tell as more problems could arise during the process, especially if TSMC decides not to make chips for Huawei because of the ban.