NEC, ARM Team on New Multiprocessor Core

ARM might have a relatively low profile, but it actually provides the processing technology for more than 80 percent of the world's mobile handsets today. NEC, an ARM partner since 1995, is licensing the ARM11 and ARM966E-S cores as well as the company's vector floating-point (VFP) coprocessor.

Japanese electronics leader NEC and mobile microprocessor mainstay ARM have announced a long-term collaboration initiative toward new multiprocessor-based cores for mobile devices and other multimedia applications.

NEC and Britain-based ARM said they will codevelop and comarket the next-generation multiprocessing core based on technology from both companies. Also, though they did not indicate when they will begin shipping the new CPU cores, the companies said the deal is aimed at extending their technology to support application-rich environments.

Yankee Group analyst John Jackson told TechNewsWorld that the deal marks the manufacturers’ anticipation of new, full-featured devices that require application-ready architecture and processing.

Jackson said the migration from today’s common ARM7 core, widely used in cell phones and other handsets, to the ARM9 processing architecture is “a defining moment for handsets” that will occur over the course of the next two years or sooner.

“When you get the majority of midtier handsets transferred, that is a critical enabling step,” he said, referring to new mobile applications that will be enabled by the new technology.

Combined Core

NEC and ARM said they will develop the next-generation CPU core in a high-performance embedded multiprocessor that uses parallel-processing technology. The companies said they also will jointly develop software for the new core, which is aimed at mobile handsets and multimedia applications.

By combining ARM’s core architecture with NEC’s symmetric multiprocessor (SMP) technology — symmetrically connected processors running the operating system to balance processor loads for higher performance — both companies hope to further the ARM11 technology as well as their own penetration in the media-rich consumer applications sector, according to ARM CEO Warren East.

“The codevelopment and comarketing by the two companies will greatly accelerate the introduction and promotion of this key innovative multiprocessor technology,” said NEC executive vice president Hirokazu Hashimoto in a statement.

NEC, an ARM partner since 1995, is licensing the ARM11 and ARM966E-S cores as well as the company’s vector floating-point (VFP) coprocessor under the agreement.

Dedicated Processing

Yankee’s Jackson said both companies — as well as competitors Motorola, Texas Instruments, Intel and several startups — envision future handsets that are feature-rich and likely will require dedicated application-processing architectures.

Jackson said that although no one is sure what the next killer app will be, different processing architectures will be needed for new “service environments” that have advanced features, including picture messaging on mobile phones.

“You need to have the requisite type of architecture that is on one hand robust, but on the other hand is also flexible enough to adjust,” he said. “That will enable the development community to implement various selections of applications with relative ease.”

ARM’s Reach

Jackson, who called ARM “the company that is underpinning all of this,” said the British processor company might have a relatively low profile, but actually provides the processing technology for more than 80 percent of the world’s mobile handsets today.

Jackson said that while application-dedicated processing is now oriented toward high-end handsets, its increased use in more mainstream devices will mark a new level of mobile computing.

The analyst also said there are likely to be more announcements centering on development of new processing architecture and other technology for advanced mobile applications.

Late last week, Sony and Intel announced that the Japanese entertainment giant would develop content specifically for Intel’s processors for mobile phones. Using Intel’s Personal Client Architecture as the foundation technology, Sony will create videos, pictures and music for mobile devices, the companies said.

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