Samsung preps big.little ARM chip

Posted by Trent Nouveau

Samsung's ARM-based Exyonos can be found in Google's new Chromebook, the Nexus 10 tablet and even Mont-Blanc's upcoming supercomputer.

The South Korean-based corporation is also eyeing 64-bit processor designs for the lucrative server market after licensing ARM's first 64-bit Cortex-A57 and Cortex-A53 chips.

And now a new report indicates that Samsung is prepping a processor built around ARM's big.little architecture.

Essentially, Big.LITTLE pairs the high horsepower Cortex-A15 MPCore with the ultra-efficient Cortex-A7 processor - allowing mobile devices to automatically select the right processor for the right task based on performance requirements.

For example, the 'LITTLE', lowest-power processor - in this case, the Cortex-A7 - runs the Operating System (OS) and apps for basic always-on, always connected tasks, such as social media and audio playback.  The OS and apps can then be seamlessly migrated (within 20 microseconds) to the higher-performance processor as demands increase for high end tasks, such as navigation and gaming.

According to EE Times, Samsung is planning to detail a 28-nm SoC with two quad-core clusters at ISSCC (International Solid-State Circuits Conference) this February. One cluster apparently runs at 1. 8 GHz, boasts a 2 MByte L2 cache and is geared for high performance apps. The other runs at 1.2 GHz and is tuned for energy efficiency.

"The chip clearly parallel's ARM's description of a big.little architecture using its 32-bit A15 and A7 cores," wrote Rick Merritt of the EE Times. "In October, ARM said the approach is delivering greater than expected benefits and expects it will become widely used in smartphones."

Kevin Krewell, senior analyst with market watcher Linley Group, concurred.  

"We expect the Samsung [chip to be] the first big.little processor," he opined. "The A7 cores should be capable of handling most [smartphone] tasks, with the A15 cores only required for maximum performance needs, like video games."