On Monday, Samsung and Intrinsity jointly announced one of the fastest processors to date aimed at devices like Apple's iPhone.
The new 1GHz chip co-developed by Austin, Texas-based Intrinsity and Samsung is similar to the processor that currently powers the iPhone 3GS: a 600MHz Samsung processor based on the ARM Cortex A8 design. U.K.-based ARM licenses its low-power chip designs to many of the world's largest chip suppliers including Samsung, Texas Instruments, Qualcomm, and, more recently, Nvidia.
The new Samsung-Intrinsity chip, code-named "Hummingbird," could be bound for a future iPhone or like device. "Yes, I think it's possible," said Tom R. Halfhill, senior analyst at the Microprocessor Report.
"Samsung could drop Hummingbird into the existing S5PC100 design with few or no changes," Halfhill said in response to an e-mail query, referring to the S5PC100 processor now used in the iPhone 3GS. "Bingo! A next-gen iPhone that could run at speeds up to 1.0GHz," he said.
Halfhill added that Samsung will likely use Hummingbird for future smartphones and discussed Hummingbird at length in an article that appeared Monday in the Microprocessor Report, where he also addressed the possibility of the chip making its way into a future Apple device.
Increasingly sophisticated smartphones will demand faster processors, according to Halfhill. One way to get there is cranking up the chip's speed--referred to as "clock speed"--something that ARM has not emphasized in the past because its designs, to date, have been all about power efficiency not about high-performance.
But that is changing. "The biggest challenge in mobile processor core design and implementation is to achieve high clock speed performance while keeping the power consumption low," said Jae Cheol Son, vice president, SOC Platform Development, System LSI Division, Samsung Electronics, in a statement.
And there's plenty of competition--one of the hallmarks of the ARM chip industry. Qualcomm is currently shipping a 1GHz ARM chip that is used in the recently-announced Toshiba TG01 smartphone. And Texas Instruments has announced that its future OMAP chips will pack multiple processing cores and hit GHz speeds.
In Intrinsity's case, to get to 1GHz it uses a 45-nanometer manufacturing process. Most ARM chips on the market today use a 65-nanometer or "fatter" process. Typically, the smaller the chip's geometries, the faster and more power efficient it is.
According to market researcher Forward Concepts, the ARM's Cortex-A family could account for about half of the total market for mobile application processors by 2013. The main processor in a smartphone is called an application processor.