Arm has announced its next-generation CPU designs, which will probably hit the market in early 2022. With all-new cores, a new architecture, and the death of 32 bit, they are proving to be among Arm’s biggest releases in some time. I don’t think ARM published a first-party post with this information, but you can’t ask for a better source than the pages and pages of info at Anandtech.
Arm CPU designs include cores in three sizes: “little,” “big,” and “performance,” all of which tackle different workloads at various power-consumption levels. The follow-up to this year’s “performance” X1 core is the Cortex X2, the big core is the Cortex A710, and for the first time in four years, ARM is introducing a new “little” core for high-efficiency workloads, the Cortex A510. Devices will finally be rid of the smaller Cortex A55 cores, which were introduced in 2017. Naturally, everything is faster. Compared to current-generation X1-based chips, ARM is promising a 16 percent faster X2 core, a 10 percent faster and 30 percent more efficient “big” core, and a 35 percent faster and 20 percent more efficient “little” core. Every core design is also seeing a 2-3x improvement in machine-learning performance, for whatever that’s worth. Put all those digits together and ARM says a CPU cluster with the normal phone layout (one Cortex X2, three A710s, and four A510s) should have 30 percent better peak performance and 30 percent better-sustained efficacy.
While the Cortex X1 and A710 are both based on the previous designs that go back to 2018 Cortex A76 cores, the smaller Cortex A510 is an entirely new design. ARM says this small core is within striking distance of the Cortex A73, which was the “big” CPU core in 2017 flagship smartphones. All three CPU designs use the new Armv9 architecture, which includes a number of security enhancements like the containerized “confidential compute architecture.”
Arm’s new CPUs continue the march toward the death of 32-bit. Google is doing its part on the Android side of things. Since August 2019, Google has required all app developers to ship 64-bit versions of apps on Google Play, alongside their 32-bit versions. In August 2021, the Play Store will just stop serving 32-bit apps to phones and tablets. As for Arm’s new CPU designs, two of the three cores don’t support 32-bit code. Only the medium-size Cortex A710 core can run 32-bit code, so if you manage to find a 32-bit app and try to run it on one of these new X2-based phones, you’ll only be able to use the medium cores. This will be your last year for backward compatibility—Arm flagships are switching to all-64 bit in 2023.
Everyone wants to know if ARM’s CPU design department will attempt to answer Apple’s M1 chip, which tackles a laptop form factor that, previously, Arm hasn’t really designed a class of chips for. Arm floated a possible M1 answer: a chip design that features eight Cortex X2 CPUs instead of the mix of smaller chips. Arm is promising 40 percent better “peak single thread performance versus 2020 mainstream laptop silicon” with this design, but will anyone actually build it?
Arm just designs CPU cores—the company isn’t announcing or shipping a real product to end-users. For that, you’ll need to go through a mobile SoC manufacturer like Qualcomm, Samsung, or MediaTek, which should ship Cortex X2-based products in early 2022. All of this info needs to be filtered through the customizations and actual implementations these companies make, which could be different from Arm’s estimates. Qualcomm is on of the biggest distributors of Arm CPU designs, but after this round of chips, Qualcomm will probably start using its own designs. The company bought chip-design firm Nuvia and announced plans to ship laptop chips designed in-house in the second half of 2022.
Listing image by Arm