ARM unveils 64-bit Cortex-A50 microprocessors as AMD comes on board

By Graeme Burton
30 Oct 2012 View Comments
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Chip designer ARM has unveiled a new series of 64-bit microprocessors intended to drive the company into the server market. The launch comes a day after Intel's rival in desktop and server computing microprocessors, AMD, revealed its plans to develop a range of ARM-based systems.

Further reading

The ARM Cortex-A50 series is based on the ARMv8 architecture, with debut designs including the Cortex-A53 and Cortex-A57. The two designs offer energy-efficient 64-bit processing technology, as well as extending existing 32-bit processing.

The Cortex-A57 is intended to provide high performance, while the Cortex-A53 is aimed at power efficiency and is also the world's smallest 64-bit microprocessor, according to ARM.

More intriguingly, they can operate independently or be combined into an ARM big.LITTLE processor combination, with the Cortex-A53 being used for low-power applications, and the Cortex-A57 when high performance is required.

A comprehensive set of ARM and ARM partner development tools and simulation models have already been made available to enable faster and easier software development. Both processors are compatible with the extensive ARM 32-bit ecosystem and integral to the fast-changing ARM 64-bit ecosystem.

Licensees of the new processor series include AMD, Broadcom, Calxeda, HiSilicon, Samsung and STMicroelectronics.

AMD more

ARM's launch today follows on from a major announcement by chip maker AMD on Monday. The company, which competes squarely with Intel in the PC and server space, is planning to introduce 64-bit server microprocessors based on ARM Cortex-A50 series designs, starting in 2014.

AMD is entering a nascent market that has excited some interest, but not yet taken off. However, as a vendor of primarily x86-compatible products, it represents the most significant entrant into the market.

According to AMD, the move is in response to demands for more dense server clusters, packing more processing power into a smaller space. That requires microprocessors that consume less energy and, therefore, produce less heat, enabling more power to be packed in.

The company had held off from acquiring an ARM licence until ARM had finished developing its 64-bit microprocessor designs - which had been started as long ago as 2005.

AMD's move, though, validates the developments by a number of start-up companies – as well as giants, such as HP – to start developing servers based on ARM's 64-bit instruction set, rather than the x86-64-bit instruction set used by AMD and Intel on conventional server products.

In recent years, AMD has offloaded its fabrication facilities to focus on design, outsourcing the production of its products to Globalfoundries, the company it floated off in March 2009 to cut the capital costs of producing each new generation of chips. 

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