ARM announced a trio of new products today, in its first major update to its high-end hardware division since the Cortex-A57 was announced several years ago. The new Cortex-A72, Mali-T880, and CCI-500 won’t ship in hardware for 12-18 months, but all three components are available for purchase as of today. This long lead time is normal in the ARM universe, where companies go through the process of licensing designs and creating new IP around them rather than building their own hardware from scratch.
First up, there’s the Cortex-A72, the next-generation high-end 64-bit chip that will follow the Cortex-A57. Where the Cortex-A57 is starting to roll out in 20nm, the Cortex-A72 is explicitly targeting the 16nm FinFET space. ARM’s own webpage states that the chip will deploy on 16nm FF+, which is the second-generation of 16nm FinFET currently in development at TSMC.
The company is also claiming that the Cortex-A72 will deliver a whopping 3.5X more performance while consuming less than 75% the energy of the old Cortex-A15. This type of claim is almost certainly cherry-picked, even given the significant improvement of the Cortex A-class chips in recent years. While modern smartphone chips are certainly much more powerful than they were several years ago, they’ve struggled to hit these targets within their various power budgets, which is why many CPUs have wide operating ranges and big.Little has become so popular.
We don’t expect the A72 to actually deliver a comprehensive, sustained 3.5x performance improvement in all cases while maintaining that 75% power reduction, but there’s no reason to think it can’t do so in certain areas, particularly since the comparison processor is 2-2.5 generations behind on process technology and confined to 32-bit operations. ARM is also announcing a new POP IP for improved time-to-market and better overall performance; the company is forecasting sustained 3GHz operation on 16nm FinFET, though it hasn’t specified a power envelope for that clock rate.
Meanwhile, there’s also the Mali-T880 and CCI-500 components to consider. The Mali-T880 will offer a 40% reduction in energy consumption compared to the Mali-T760, while adding support for 10-bit YUV color, premium 4K content support, and 1.8x the graphics performance of its predecessor. To date, ARM has had very limited success capturing high-end market space for its Mali devices — while popular, the company’s graphics chips often show up in lower-end smartphones, Smart TVs, or budget products. Whether the Mali-T880 will break this trend or continue it remains to be seen, but ARM remains committed to building its own GPU as opposed to simply licensing hardware from PowerVR.
The CCI-500 is a fair bit different from the CCN-504 we’ve previously discussed. That interconnect was explicitly designed for server workloads, with up to 16MB of L3 cache, dual-channel memory (DDR3 or DDR4) and up to 18 AMBA interfaces to various peripheral busses or components.
CCI-500 dumps the huge L3 cache and only allows for two clusters of CPUs (eight cores total, compared to 16 for CCN-504) but it offers quad-channel memory interfaces, directly integrates the GPU, and maintains coherency across the entire chip. The CCI-500 offers 2x the memory bandwidth and 35% better latency than the older CCI-400 consumer solution that it ostensibly replaces.