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Arm Offers Faster, Customizable Design to Help Android Phones

Ian King

(Bloomberg) -- Arm Ltd., whose technology is a key component of chips that run most of the world’s smartphones, is offering new designs aimed at boosting the performance of Android handsets.The U.K. company said its new A78 model will offer a 20% increase in performance over its predecessor and announced a new Cortex-X program that will help chipmakers customize their offerings to deliver bursts of as much as 30% more processing speed.Arm offers chip designs and licenses the fundamental code used by processors to communicate with software that runs phones. Most Android phone makers use chips from Qualcomm Inc. or Mediatek Inc. Samsung Electronics Co. and Huawei Technologies Co. use those chipmakers’ components and their own products. Apple Inc. is an Arm licensee, but designs its own A series processors that are typically rated the speediest available.The customization that Apple has been able to bring to its own combinations of software and hardware has allowed it to claim performance leadership over phones that run Alphabet Inc.’s Google Android operating system. Such claims feature heavily in Apple’s marketing of the iPhone.“The pace of increasing performance in smartphones exceeds that of any other computing device category in the industry today,” Arm said in a statement. “To address this insatiable demand for the highest performance possible, we’re introducing a new engagement program called the Cortex-X Custom program to give our partners the option of having more flexibility and scalability for increasing performance.”Cortex X will let chip and phone makers add a different mix of cores to the combinations of components that run major smartphone functions. Current designs feature uniform sets of cores and more power-efficient ones that are used to maintain background functions without draining the battery. Arm’s new offering changes this approach. An X core might kick in for a short time, for example, when a piece of software is demanding the absolute maximum performance the chip can provide.Cambridge-based Arm is a division of Japan’s SoftBank Group Corp. Like other companies that rely on the smartphone market, Arm is looking for ways to help spur demand for the devices. The market already had stalled before the Covid-19 outbreak curbed sales and disrupted supply chains. In the first quarter of 2020, smartphone shipments dropped 12% from a year earlier, according to IDC.

In addition to more powerful and efficient designs for the handsets, the smartphone industry is banking on faster fifth-generation, or 5G, networks to persuade consumers to upgrade their phones.Arm is also offering a new graphics chip design that will handle video and gaming content better, and updated machine-learning capabilities to help with artificial intelligence workloads.

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