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TSMC Hits 3.1GHz With ARM Cortex-A9 Processor

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The Taiwanese manufacturer has built an ARM-designed chip that will add to the competition between ARM and Intel

Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSMC) has built an ARM-designed chip that hit a speed of more than 3GHz, an achievement sure to ratchet up the already growing competition between ARM and Intel.

Officials with TSMC said on 3 May that using its 28-nanometre manufacturing process, they were able to run a dual-core ARM Cortex-A9 processor at 3.1GHz under typical conditions, a speed that probably won’t show up in any smartphones, but could be another step toward pushing ARM-designed chips into PCs and low-power servers.

‘High performance’

According to TSMC officials, ARM’s Cortex-A9 chips built with the 28nm process can deliver “performance speeds” at between 1.5GHz and 2.0GHz, which is more suitable to mobile computing devices. However, the 3.1GHz speed could be used for “high-performance” applications, such as networking and tablets, they said.

“At 3.1GHz, this 28HPM [high performance for mobile applications] dual-core processor implementation is twice as fast as [a similar 40nm chip from TSMC] under the same operating conditions,” Cliff Hou, TSMC vice president for research and development, said in a statement. “This work demonstrates how ARM and TSMC can satisfy high-performance market demands. With other implementation options, 28HPM is also highly suited for a wide range of markets” in which price performance and power efficiency are valued.

Intel and Advanced Micro Devices offer chips that can hit 3GHz or more. However, both are focusing less on raw speed and more on increasing performance while driving down power consumption. Intel, in particular, is looking to gain traction in the mobile device market, where most smartphones and tablets are powered by ARM-designed low-power chips made by Qualcomm, Samsung, Nvidia and others.

The XOLO X900 from Lava International, the first smartphone powered by Intel’s Atom Z2460 Medfield processor, went on sale last month in India, and Intel executives expect more smartphone and tablets running their chips to hit the market this year with the rollout of Medfield and Intel’s 22nm Ivy Bridge processors.

However, just as Intel has been trying to push into ARM’s domain, ARM and its partners are looking to expand into PCs and low-power servers. A year ago, ARM President Tudor Brown said during a press conference that the company expects that by 2015, half of all mobile PCs – including tablets and mini-PCs – will be powered by ARM-based chips. He also said that ARM-based servers should begin shipping in volume within the next couple of years.

Windows 8 boost

ARM executives also have said they expect to get a boost in the PC space when Microsoft later this year releases Windows 8, which for the first time will be optimised not only for x86 chips from Intel and AMD, but also system-on-a-chip (SoC) architectures like ARM’s.

Qualcomm is working on a quad-core version of its ARM-based Snapdragon chips for Windows 8 laptops.

ARM officials lauded TSMC for its work with the high-performance manufacturing process.

“TSMC’s high performance 28HPM process is suitable for a wide range of advanced ARM-processor based applications, extending from high-frequency, performance-orientated computing devices to power-sensitive applications,” Jim Nicholas, vice president of marketing for ARM’s Processor Division, said in a statement. “The collaboration between ARM, TSMC and our ecosystem partners has delivered an extensible implementation platform that enables flexibility in performance and power-management trade-offs for next-generation products.”

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