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ARM Introduces Its 64-bit Processors: Meet the Cortex-A53 and Cortex-A57

First 64-bit chips from ARM: Cortex-A53 and Cortex-A57

At the ARM TechCon which is being held in Santa Clara, CA the company introduced its first processors based on 64-bit ARMv8 architecture. Under the name Cortex-A53 and -A57, the company plans to usher itself into the microserver era, where it won't face competition from Intel until 2016.

The ARM TechCon 2012 conference is being viewed as a pivotal event for the company. While previous conferences were always quite poor, both in content and the way how they were organized (a complaint we heard from several large ARM partners) – the 2012 conference is flooding the news channels with quite important announcements. Everything is gearing up for a major attack on the market in 2014, with Intel scheduled to launch its microserver parts in fourth quarter 2013 or first quarter 2014 (Bay Trail platform with Valleyview processors, which we exclusively disclosed here).

The News

First off, AMD announced that the company will ship hybrid 64-bit x86/ARM processors for servers, all carrying the Opteron brand name. While details about the parts remain hidden, we were assured that AMD will mix the 64-bit low-power "Jaguar" cores with ARMv8 cores, SeaMicro's Freedom Fabric and most probably with the Volcanic Islands GPU.

Secondly, Cadence and IBM successfully demonstrated a test chip with Cortex-M0 based 14nm process node with both IBM FinFET (Tri-Gate, so called 3D transistors) and next-gen Fully Depleted SOI (Silicon-on-Insulator). The combination between FinFET and FD-SOI is viewed as advantageous over competitors that use bulk silicon (Intel, all TSMC clients), and you can expect IBM, GlobalFoundries and Samsung Electronics to fully utilize the two technologies once 14nm hits in 2014. Three foundries in question are members of the Common Platform Alliance, which shares the resources in order to accelerate development. 14nm FinFET / FD-SOI wafers will be available from IBM East Fishkill (NY State) GlobalFoundries Malta Fab (NY State) and Samsung's Foundry in Austin (Texas).

ARM's 64-bit products for 2014 take shape

With the manufacturing set in place, the time came for ARM to unveil a true successor to the popular Cortex-A9 (2009) and Cortex-A15 (2012) models. The two new models come under the name Cortex-A53 and Cortex-A57. These two are first parts based on the eight generation ARM architecture (ARMv8), targeting superphones, tablets, convertible designs and high-density servers.

According to ARM, the Cortex-A53 and -A57 should offer at least three times the performance of Cortex-A15 parts, while keeping the full compatibility with existing ARMv7 code.

As the name goes, the two parts have different roles, even though the look in their internals reveals that not all the numbers play in hand of the higher numbered part. According to the press release, Cortex-A53 is "most power-efficient ARM application processor," while the Cortex-A57 is "most advanced high-performance applications processor."

Cortex-A53 at a Glance

  • Out-of-Order ARMv8 32/64 Core
  • Up to Quad-Core Design
  • 40-bit Physical Memory Address
  • Up to 1TB RAM (LPDDR3 to DDR4)
  • 8-64KB L1 I-Cache (w/parity)
  • 8-64KB L1 D-Cache (w/ECC)
  • NEON SIMD Engine
  • FPU
  • 128KB – 2MB L2 Cache (w/ECC)
  • 128-bit CoreLink Interconnect (CCI-400 and CCN-504)

Furthermore, we have a product overview:

Cortex-A57 at a Glance

  • Out-of-Order ARMv8 32/64 Core
  • Up to Quad-Core Design
  • 44-bit Virtual Memory Address
  • Up to 16TB RAM (LPDDR3 to DDR4)
  • 48KB L1 I-Cache (w/DED parity)
  • 32KB L1 D-Cache (w/ECC)
  • NEON SIMD Engine
  • FPU
  • 128KB – 2MB L2 Cache (w/ECC)
  • 128-bit CoreLink Interconnect (CCI-400 and CCN-504)

Just as with the Cortex-A53, we obtained an overview of the Cortex-A57 silicon, thanks to PR team at Race Point Group:

ARM announced six vendors that will utilize Cortex-A53/A57: AMD, Broadcom, Calxeda, HiSilicon/Huawei, Samsung Electronics and STMicroelectronics. We'll address AMD's strategy in a separate article, while you can expect A53 and A57 to be the center of quad-core designs from HiSilicon (paired with Mali-T604 or T628 graphics), Samsung Exynos 6000 Series, while Broadcom, Calxeda and STMicroelectronics will use the concepts above for their respective markets (embedded – automotive, networking, etc.). 

All in all, Intel's 32-bit Out-of-Order mobile architecture codenamed Silvermont will have a battle royale on their hands, with ARM entering the server space with AMD and Samsung.

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