With the release of the Armada 628 chips, Marvell wants to show it can compete with the Intels, Texas Instruments, Samsungs, Qualcomms, and VIAs of the world. It is taking the approach of many others, and deciding that a few small processors can be more efficient at doing the work on a small device, instead of one larger processor, which might be spending much of its time idle, and creating nothing but heat. Keeping three smaller processors at near peak usage proves to be a much more sensible solution. It makes for long lived devices per charge, using current battery sizes and technology.

[InformationWeek]

Marvell has introduced a triple-core ARM processor for smartphones and tablet computers that the company claims has the horsepower to drive full high-definition 3D video while maintaining long battery life.

The Armada 628, unveiled Thursday, is a 1.5 GHz application processor that comprises three Marvell-designed CPU cores running the ARM instruction set licensed from the U.K. chip-design company of the same name. The low-power demands of ARM-based processors have made them the favorite of mobile phone makers worldwide.

The Armada processors have been used in many small devices over the past 10+ years, as they are always in the mix right down to the final cut because of their frugality with battery charge.

While low power remains a key criterion, makers of smartphones and mobile devices are also looking for more processing power, as people increasingly use the devices to drive applications downloaded from the web. Marvell’s latest processor is the company’s attempt to meet both demands.

The Armada 628 can deliver dual-stream 1080p 3D video and graphics, Marvell said. At the same time, the processor can play more than 10 hours of full high-definition video or 140 hours of music on a single battery charge, while providing 3 GHz of computational power.

The Armada 628, which features 1 MB of system level 2 cache, incorporates a number of Marvell’s most advanced processing and power management features. The tri-core design integrates two 1.5 GHz symmetric multiprocessing cores and a third 624 MHz core optimized for low power, the company says.

Shutting down cores completely, when not needed, plays a big part in overall efficiency, and this has been a lesson that Intel and AMD learned from ARM many years ago, when ARM processors were used in nearly all forms of devices where an embedded processor is relied upon.

From Wikipedia we see the extent to which the ARM processors are deployed –

As of 2007, about 98 percent of the more than one billion mobile phones sold each year use at least one ARM processor.[3] As of 2009, ARM processors account for approximately 90% of all embedded 32-bit RISC processors. ARM processors are used extensively in consumer electronics, including PDAs, mobile phones, digital media and music players, hand-held game consoles, calculators and computer peripherals such as hard drives and routers.

The ARM architecture is licensable. Companies that are current or former ARM licensees include Alcatel-Lucent, Apple Inc., Atmel, Broadcom, Cirrus Logic, Digital Equipment Corporation, Freescale, Intel (through DEC), LG, Marvell Technology Group, Microsoft, NEC, Nuvoton, NVIDIA, NXP (previously Philips), Oki, Qualcomm, Samsung, Sharp, STMicroelectronics, Symbios Logic, Texas Instruments, VLSI Technology, Yamaha and ZiiLABS.

ARM processors are developed by ARM and by ARM licensees. Prominent examples of ARM Holdings ARM processor families include the ARM7, ARM9, ARM11 and Cortex. Examples of ARM processors developed by major licensees include DEC StrongARM, Freescale i.MX, Marvell (formerly Intel) XScale, Nintendo, NVIDIA Tegra, ST-Ericsson Nomadik, Qualcomm Snapdragon, and the Texas Instruments OMAP product line.

[back to InformationWeek]

The third core is designed to support routine computing tasks and acts as a management processor by handing over bigger workloads to the other two cores. The overall design of the Armada 628, according to Marvell, delivers PC-class performance without crossing the power restrictions of smartphones and tablets.

"The architecture is analogous to a hybrid muscle car," the company said in a statement. "The ARMADA 628 is intended to perform like a race car engine on demand, while still delivering the frugal gas-mileage of a hybrid automobile."

The new tri-core processor is the anchor component of a system-on-chip design that comprises six other processing engines to support 3D graphics, 1080p video encode/decode, high-fidelity audio, advanced cryptography and digital photo processing.

The Armada 628 supports USB 3.0 connectors, which can transfer data between devices at speeds 10 times faster than the USB 2.0 standard. The processor supports LP-DDR2 or DDR3 system memory up to 533 MHz and includes a display controller capable of driving two displays simultaneously.

Would it be great to be able to use your phone as a mass storage device as well as a phone? For smaller data needs, it might allow use of the phone instead of an additional device, like a thumbdrive.

If it can drive two displays, it could end up in cars, providing an advanced display for the driver, while giving television or video to the passenger.

It could also find its way into an iPad-like tablet device, that could be shared by children in the back seat, as each watches different programming from the other side of the tablet (like a double sided book).

Standard support important for playing mobile games include DirectX, Open GL ES 2.0 and Open VG 1.1.

The Armada 628 supports several mobile operating systems, including Research In Motion’s BlackBerry, Google’s Android, Linux and Windows Mobile. The processor also supports Adobe Flash and the HDMI standard for connectors to play content on a digital TV or other consumer electronics.

Marvell did not name any hardware vendors planning to release products incorporating the new chip. The company said the Armada 628 is available for sampling to manufacturers.

Marvell and other makers of ARM processor continue to push the envelope with the technology, as Intel moves aggressively to drive its x86 Atom processors in computing devices smaller than netbooks, most of which use Intel’s low-power processor. To date, however, Intel has yet to make a dent in the smartphone market, with the tablet computer market too young to tell who will become the dominant player.

Marvell competitors include Qualcomm and Samsung.

With that kind of power and connectivity planned, it is truly only a matter of imagination, and customer demand, that will decide what these processors will power in the next few years.

I can’t wait to see what happens.

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