OCZ wraps both its ARMs around a new SSD controller and gives it a little TLC

Subject: General Tech | July 26, 2011 - 12:03 PM |
Tagged: ssd, ocz, arm, tlc, sata 6Gps, Indilinx Everest

OCZ is never satisfied with the performance of their SSDs in general and their controllers specifically.  After purchasing Indilinx to ensure that their controllers would be of high quality and designed to OCZ's specific needs, they've now been pushing Indilinx to improve on their controllers.  That has lead to Everest, which has a dual core ARM processor and 400MHz DDR3 cache that can support up to 512MB.  The controller is optimized for 8K writes which is perfect for the current flash utilized in SSDs.  OCZ has also optimized the flash memory, developing Triple Level Cell (TLC) which has three layers as opposed to MLC which sports two.  The controller will be backwards compatible, which is a good idea if OCZ wants to license the controller to other manufacturers, which makes sense as Everest should hit 200MT/s as compared to SandForce's current 166MT/s.  There is more that this controller can do, click on over to The Register to read about it.

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"OCZ is sampling a new flash controller that gives a picture of future solid state drives.

The company bought Indilinx for its solid state drive (SSD) controller technology in March this year and has now unveiled the Indilinx Everest controller platform.

It has a 6Gbit/s SATA III interface, a dual-core ARM processor and a number of enticing features, such as 3-bit multi-level cell (MLC) support. This is going to be called TLC, for triple-level cell, to distinguish it from today's MLC, which is 2-bit MLC."

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Source: The Register

Intel and AMD be warned; ARM could grab up to 20% of the laptop market in the next 4 years

Subject: General Tech | July 19, 2011 - 01:02 PM |
Tagged: Intel, amd, arm, mali, low power

Those who ignored Microsoft's announcement that Windows 8 will support ARM processors will perhaps take note of Isuppli's claim that ARM could grab 1 in 5 of the laptops sold by 2015.  The extremely low powers System on a Chip design that they have been selling were at the opposite end of the market from AMD and Intel's X86 chips, but with the rise of the APU the market has undergone a fundamental change.  While the X86 makers are trying to lower the power requirements of their APUs, ARM is busy trying to ramp up the power of their chips.  There are already several vendors establishing a relationship with ARM, up to and including Apple

ARM's Cortex A9 and Mali are impressive, but ARM is already talking about console level graphics quality from their next generation of chips which we will see in roughly 18 months.  This improvement will also encompass their next generation of power efficency research, which should keep power consumption and heat well below what Intel and AMD will be trying to reach.  As well, it might provide an interesting opportunity for NVIDIA as the lack of a license to integrate chips with the new X86 based architecture will not stop them from developing graphics enhancements for ARM based laptops.  Drop by The Inquirer for more on this topic

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"CHIP DESIGNER ARM could power over 20 per cent of all laptops shipped in 2015, according to analyst outfit IHS Isuppli.

IHS Isuppli has forecast that the domination of X86 chips in the laptop market will start to diminish as Microsoft releases its Windows 8 operating system. Windows 8 will be the first desktop operating system from Microsoft that will support the ARM architecture that is found in just about every smartphone in existence."

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Source: The Inquirer

Samsung needs to pump up their tiny ARMs

Subject: General Tech | July 15, 2011 - 12:01 PM |
Tagged: arm, Samsung, 20nm

Good news for those into shrinkage, as Samsung has rolled out a proof of concept 20nm chip based on the ARM Cortex SoC.  The process used includes High-k metal gates in addition to silicon on insulator, neither of which are new technology to CPU enthusiasts, however the process size is.  That lends credence to the rumour that Apple might be considering switching to an ARM architecture since they already use Samsung as a major provider and this would allow them to continue that relationship.  Then again GLOBALFOUNDRIES is looking at a partnership with ARM as well, so don't count them out.  This should also give doubters of Intel's scheduled process shrinkage some reassurance; if Samsung is already doing it then it is hard to doubt Intel's abililty to do so.  SemiAccurate has the scoop here.

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"Samsung Foundry, a subsidiary of Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. (SEO:005930) is currently testing its entire 20nm process flow and has just taped out a complete test processor that is based on an ARM Cortex-M0 processor that has been combined with ARM Artisan prototype libraries (both 12-track high performance and 9-track high density versions), custom memories, GPIO, and test structures."

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Source: SemiAccurate

AMD is out and ARM is in for several major notebook vendors

Subject: General Tech, Mobile | June 22, 2011 - 12:05 PM |
Tagged: arm, amd, texas instruments, snapdragon, amazon, tegra

It is not just AMD which is forging a new relationship with ARM, which we saw evidence of during the AMD Fusion Developer Summit, several other manufacturers are making good on previous statements made while waiting for AMD, and are going to be selling ARM based notebooks.  These companies are not on the fringe of the market, these are major vendors like ASUS which are releasing quad-core ARM based notebooks which will use SnapDragon, Tegra or TI for the graphics portion.  DigiTimes has the scoop here, as well as news on a tablet which will be released by Amazon running an unspecified TI processor which we should see by August.

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"Several vendors, including Samsung Electronics, Toshiba, Acer and Asustek Computer, plan to develop ARM architecture notebooks, with products possibly to be launched as early as the end of 2011, according to industry sources.

The sources pointed out that ARM-based systems using Android were already launched under the smartbook name two years ago with Toshiba and Lenovo both launching products in the retail channel. However, due to weaker than expected demand, the related products were soon phased out of the market.

Since ARM's CPU has already been upgraded from single-core two years ago to quad-core with a significant increase in performance, while the platform's storage capacity has also seen significant improvements, and an enhanced user interface, ARM is already capable of launching notebook products that are able to run for a long period of time, and if the price is attractive, there is a great chance for the products to create a brand new market segment in the IT industry.

Asustek has already made plans to launch a 13-inch ARM-based notebook adopting Nvidia's processor with Android.

The sources pointed out that there are already several brand vendors reportedly set to launch ARM-based notebooks with prices lower than US$299 to compete for market share and the vendors' processor choices include Nvidia's Tegra, Qualcomm's Snapdragon and processors from Texas Instruments."

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Source: DigiTimes

TSMC gets AMD's 28nm APU business

Subject: General Tech | June 17, 2011 - 02:24 PM |
Tagged: TSMC, southern islands, northern islands, llano, global foundries, arm, amd, 40nm, 32nm, 28nm

Back in April there was a kerfuffle in the news about a deal penned between AMD, Global Foundries and TSMC.  It is not worth repeating completely as you can follow the story by using the previous link, suffice to say that it did not indicate problems with the relationship between AMD and Global Foundries. 

The previous post was specifically about 40nm and 32nm process chips, however today we hear from DigiTimes that TSMC has scored a deal with AMD for the 28nm Southern Islands APUs of which we have seen much recently.  The 40nm Northern Islands GPUs will also be produced by TSMC.  That leaves a lot of production capabilities free at Global Foundries to work on ARM processors.  

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"AMD reportedly has completed the tape-out of its next-generation GPU, codenamed Southern Islands, on Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company's (TSMC) 28nm process with High-k Metal Gate (HKMG) technology, according to a Chinese-language Commercial Times report. The chip is set to expected to enter mass produciton at the end of 2011.

TSMC will also be AMD's major foundry partner for the 28nm Krishna and Wichita accelerated processing units (APUs), with volume production set to begin in the first half of 2012, the report said.

TSMC reportedly contract manufactures the Ontario, Zacate and Desna APUs for AMD as well as the Northern Island family of GPUs. All of these use the foundry's 40nm process technology.

TSMC was quoted as saying in previous reports that it had begun equipment move-in for the phase one facility of a new 12-inch fab (Fab 15) with volume production of 28nm technology products slated for the fourth quarter of 2011. The foundry previously said it would begin moving equipment into the facility in June, with volume production expected to kick off in the first quarter of 2012."

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Source: DigiTimes

A look at what ARM could be doing in your server room

Subject: General Tech | June 15, 2011 - 12:16 PM |
Tagged: servers, calxeda, arm

ARM has assembled their own Super Best Friends in a team lead by Calxeda, and composed of Autonomic Resources, Canonical, Caringo, Couchbase, Datastax, Eucalyptus Systems, Gluster, Momentum SI, Opscode, and Pervasive.  This places Ubuntu as the ARM OS of choice for the server room and as it includes companies developing applications for running Cloud services, not only Microsoft should be paying attention; applications like Amazon's EC2 could face new competition as well. 

Calexda's current reference machines pack 120 server nodes with 480 cores in a 2U chassis, a density which even a 1W Atom is going to find hard to match and the 1W Atoms are still a ways away.  They are planning on getting the machines out to clients for testing by the end of the year, Intel's time table is nowhere near that tight.  Read more about the low powered battle for dominance at The Register.

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"With Intel's top brass bad-mouthing ARM-based servers, upstart server chip maker Calxeda can't let Intel do all the talking. It has to put together an ecosystem of hardware and software partners who believe there's a place for a low-power, 32-bit ARM-based server platform in the data center."

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Source: The Register

AFDS11: ARM Talks Dark Silicon and Computing Bias at Fusion Summit

Subject: Editorial, Processors, Shows and Expos | June 14, 2011 - 05:09 PM |
Tagged: nvidia, Intel, heterogeneous, fusion, arm, AFDS

Before the AMD Fusion Developer Summit started this week in Bellevue, WA the most controversial speaker on the agenda was Jem Davies, the VP of Technology at ARM.  Why would AMD and ARM get together on a stage with dozens of media and hundreds of developers in attendance?  There is no partnership between them in terms of hardware or software but would there be some kind of major announcement made about the two company's future together?

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In that regard, the keynote was a bit of a letdown and if you thought there was going to be a merger between them or a new AMD APU being announced with an ARM processor in it, you left a bit disappointed.  Instead we got a bit of background on ARM how the race of processing architectures has slowly dwindled to just x86 and ARM as well as a few jibes at the competition NOT named AMD.

As is usually the case, Davies described the state of processor technology with an emphasis on power efficiency and the importance of designing with that future in mind.  One of the interesting points was shown in regard to the "bitter reality" of core-type performance and the projected DECREASE we will see from 2012 onward due to leakage concerns as we progress to 10nm and even 7nm technologies.

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The idea of dark silicon "refers to the huge swaths of silicon transistors on future chips that will be underused because there is not enough power to utilize all the transistors at the same time" according to this article over at physorg.com.  As the process technology gets smaller then the areas of dark silicon increase until the area of the die that can be utilized at any one time might hit as low as 10% in 2020.  Because of this, the need to design chips with many task-specific heterogeneous portions is crucial and both AMD and ARM on that track.

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Those companies not on that path today, NVIDIA specifically and Intel as well, were addressed on the below slide when discussing GPU computing.  Davies pointed out that if a company has a financial interest in the immediate success of only CPU or GPU then benchmarks will be built and shown in a way to make it appear that THAT portion is the most important.  We have seen this from both NVIDIA and Intel in the past couple of years while AMD has consistently stated they are going to be using the best processor for the job.  

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Amdahl's Law is used in parallel computing to predict the theoretical maximum speed up using multiple processors.  Davies reiterated what we have been told for some time that if only 50% of your application can actually BE parallelized, then no matter how many processing cores you throw at it, it will only ever be 50% faster.  The heterogeneous computing products of today and the future can address both the parallel computing and serial computing tasks with improvements in performance and efficiency and should result in better computing in the long run.

So while we didn't get the major announcement from ARM and AMD that we might have been expecting, the fact that ARM would come up and share a stage with AMD reiterates the message of the Fusion Developer Summit quite clearly: a combined and balanced approach to processing might not be the sexiest but it is very much the correct one for consumers.

Source: PCPer

Sprint Shows Off Its First 4G Dual Core Tegra 2 Super Phone

Subject: Mobile | June 9, 2011 - 06:43 PM |
Tagged: Tegra 2, super phone, Sprint, Photon, nvidia, arm, 4g

If desktop processors are advancing at the speed of sound, then mobile processors are advancing at somewhere near the speed of light. Just a year ago, a 600MHz Ti processor was very fast; however, in the age of dual core 1GHz+ processors that seems to be rather slow by comparison. Speaking of the speed of photons, Sprint has recently unveiled a new Motorola smart phone called the Photon 4G that is packed with lots of hardware and powered by Android 2.3.

What makes the Photon 4G special; however, is that it is the first NVIDIA Tegra powered "super phone" on Sprint's 4G cellular network. The 2.6 inch x 5 inch device has a depth of .5 inches and weighs in at 5.6 ounces. This rather hefty chassis holds a large 4.3" "qHD" display with a resolution of 540x960.  Further, the phone has two cameras with the rear camera being capable of capturing 720p HD video and the front facing camera sporting a VGA (480x640) resolution.  An HDMI output port, a microSD card slot supporting up to 32GB cards, and a metal kick stand also have a place on the device.

Internally, the phone features a 1GHz dual core Tegra 2 processor, 16GB of on-board storage, and 1GB of RAM.  A 3G/4G radio supporting International GSM frequencies as well as a Bluetooth and Wifi 802.11 b/g/n radio are also present.  This hardware is in turn backed by a 1700 mAh Lithium Ion battery.

According to the NVIDIA blog, the device is made further desirable due to it's ability to play "multi-platform, console-class Android OS games with the kind of experience you expect from a game console."  The Photon 4G also supports Bluetooth controller input, enabling it to act as a sort of portable gaming console by hooking it up to a large display via HDMI and playing games using a Bluetooth controller.  NVIDIA demonstrated playing Riptide GP on the phone using a Wii controller.  It will likely support the dual shock controller down the road as well.

NVIDIA shows off the Wii controlled super phone's gaming abilities

Sprint claims a nine to ten hour talk-time for the phone, depending on the network the phone is using (3G/4G); therefore, it will be interesting to see if this phone will have the battery life in real world tests to be a good portable gaming machine.  It may even steal some market share from the Playstation Vita if Android can keep new games flowing.  What do you think about the Photon 4G?

Source: Sprint

Intel won't design ARM chips but they might be eyeing the manufacturing side

Subject: General Tech | May 30, 2011 - 12:09 PM |
Tagged: Intel, arm

Paul Otellini, the current CEO of Intel, has gone on record stating that Intel has little interest in fabbing non-Intel based chips on its manufacturing line.  That makes a lot of sense for those who watch the back end of the CPU business but it doesn't seem logical to those who don't.  The reasoning is based on licensing and the habit of the technology industry to use Intellectual Property licensing agreements and lawyers the same way Jason uses his machete.  If Intel starts fabbing their own ARM chips with none of their own IP inside, then it leaves an opening later on for ARM to go after Intel if any of their new products seem derivative of ARM's IP.  It also makes an entire production line at Intel dependant on ARM sales.

So, why did Intel's CFO Stacey Smith not repeat that same emphatic denial when asked a similar question?  In her case she was asked if they would fab Apple-designed ARM-based A5 CPUs with Intel's 22nm IP inside.  Suddenly Intel only has to design the core of the chip and does not have to license any of ARM's IP as they are only providing the production line.  As well, Intel would be licensing their own IP to Apple which brings them money and can the IP license can function as a hostage down the road; think the court case involving NVIDIA's ability to design chipsets for Intel chips with integrated memory controllers.  Get more at The Register.

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"Parsing the statements of both Intel execs, however, reveals that their statements are not, in fact, as contradictory as they may at first seem. Otellini stated that "We have no intention to use our license again to build ARM," while Smith spoke only of fabbing someone else's custom design – and if that design included an ARM core, the third party would pay the licensing fee."

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Source: The Register

Rumors point to Apple moving to ARM processors for future notebooks

Subject: Processors, Mobile | May 6, 2011 - 07:11 PM |
Tagged: project denver, nvidia, macbook, Intel, arm, apple

A very interesting story over at AppleInsider has put the rumor out there that Apple may choose to ditch the Intel/x86 architecture all together with some future upcoming notebooks.  Instead, Apple may choose to go the route of the ARM-based processor, likely similar to the A4 that Apple built for the iPhone and iPad.

What is holding back the move right now?  Well for one, the 64-bit versions of these processors aren't available yet and Apple's software infrastructure is definitely dependent on that.  By the end of 2012 or early in 2013 those ARM-based designs should be ready for the market and very little would stop Apple from making the move.  Again, this is if the rumors are correct.

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Another obstacle is performance - even the best ARM CPUs on the market fall woefully behind the performance of Intel's current crop of Sandy Bridge processors or even their Core 2 Duo options.  

In addition to laptops, the report said that Apple would "presumably" be looking to move its desktop Macs to ARM architecture as well. It characterized the transition to Apple-made chips for its line of computers as a "done deal."

"Now you realize why Apple is desperately searching for fab capacity from Samsung, Global Foundries, and TSMC," the report said. "Intel doesn't know about this particular change of heart yet, which is why they are dropping all the hints about wanting Apple as a foundry customer. Once they realize Apple will be fabbing ARM chips at the expense of x86 parts, they may not be so eager to provide them wafers on advanced processes."

Even though Apple is already specing its own processors like the A4 there is the possibility that they could go with another ARM partner for higher performance designs.  NVIDIA's push into the ARM market with Project Denver could be a potential option as they are working very closely with ARM on those design and performance improvements.  Apple might just "borrow" those changes however at NVIDIA's expense and build its own option that would satisify its needs exactly without the dependence on third-parties.  

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Migrating the notebook (and maybe desktop markets) to ARM processors would allow the company to unify their operating system across the classic "computer" designs and the newer computer models like iPads and iPhones.  The idea of all of our computers turning into oversized iPhones doesn't sound appealing to me (nor I imagine, many of you) but with some changes in the interface it could become a workable option for many consumers. 

With even Microsoft planning for an ARM-based version of Windows, it seems that x86 dominance in the processor market is being threatened without a doubt.  

Source: AppleInsider