ARM Announces Chip Overhaul for AI Future

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Even though phones, smart TVs, and other connected devices aren't susceptible to the blue screen of death, they have countless other hardware and firmware limitations that chip-maker ARM is trying to solve.

The company announced a major overhaul of its chip microarchitecture this week, one that could boost the processing capabilities of everything from smart baby monitors to Fitbits to the next iPhone. Called Dynamiq, it is up to 50 times faster than ARM's existing architecture, which powers the current Cortex-A series of processors.

Why should you care about your phone's processing power? ARM executives point to the fact that phones and other devices of the future will be much smarter and more complex than today's crop of personal electronics, which means they'll need immense processing power to tackle all of their artificial intelligence algorithms. Even if the software is perfectly written and some of the number crunching is performed in the cloud, the device's own processor could still be a bottleneck.

"As systems get more complex, we need to redefine how multiprocessing works," ARM General Manager Nandan Nayampally said during a press briefing on Monday. "You will not be able to do this purely in the cloud."

And doing it on a device with today's processors will result in a problem that anyone who's tried a marathon virtual reality gaming session with their Samsung Gear VR has experienced: the phone will likely overheat and shut down. That equivalent of the blue screen of death might be little more than an inconvenience for gamers, but if it happened in a self-driving car, the consequences could be far more dire.


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So Dynamiq is specifically designed to offer more performance while putting out less heat. It also supports AI and machine learning accelerators, a new class of microprocessor that can handle AI tasks while the main processor powers the phone's conventional tasks, such as taking photos or browsing the Internet. It's an evolution of ARM's "big.LITTLE" philosophy, which is all about choosing the right processor for the right task.

ARM says Dynamiq will also allow companies to certify their devices for the stringent ASIL-D standard that governs safety protocols for self-driving cars.

New chips based on the Dynamiq architecture will start showing up in consumer devices by 2018, Nayampally said. The company estimates that 100 billion ARM-based chips will be needed by 2021.

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