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Arm introduces its first Armv9 architecture CPUs and GPUs, previewing 2022’s Android flagships

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Arm has introduced its latest CPU and GPU designs, including its flagship Cortex-X2 and Cortex-A710 CPUs and Mali-G710 GPU. The new CPU and GPU designs aren’t just Arm’s latest chip blueprints, though; they’re also its first designs to utilize its new Armv9 architecture, its first in a decade, which means big jumps in performance, along with new security and AI features.

Most consumers probably aren’t familiar with the exact Arm cores inside their phones or computers, but Arm’s designs — and particularly, its big.LITTLE configuration of combining powerful high-performance cores and battery-saving high-efficiency cores — are common to virtually every Android phone. That means the designs introduced here are effectively a preview of what the best Android phones of 2022 will look like.

Arm is introducing three new CPU designs this year. First, the Cortex-X2: it’s part of Arm’s Cortex-X custom program that lets partners help design specialized cores for their specific use cases. A successor to last year’s Cortex-X1, it’s also the most powerful design in the lineup, promising up to 16 percent improved performance compared to last year’s model. There’s also the Cortex-A710, the new “big” core, promising up to 30 percent better power efficiency and 10 percent better performance than last year’s Cortex-A78.

But Arm isn’t just upgrading the performance cores. For the first time in four years, it’s also introducing a new “LITTLE” high-efficiency core, the Cortex-A510, which replaces the Cortex-A55 design that’s been used for major phones since it was introduced in 2017. And it’s here that Arm’s promising the biggest jumps: up to 30 percent better performance, and 20 percent better power efficiency compared to the old model.

The new Armv9 designs together should result in a big jump in performance once they make their way to chips, too. Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 888, for example, uses partially customized versions of last year’s flagship Arm Cortex-X1 and Cortex-A78 as its four “big” cores and the roughly four-year-old Cortex-A55 design for its “LITTLE” cores. Samsung’s flagship Exynos 2100 uses a similar configuration, too, along with Arm’s Mali-G78 GPU design.

The new CPU core designs promise to blow both of those chips out of the water: Arm says that a CPU cluster made up of the Armv9 designs (a single Cortex-X2, three Cortex-A710 cores, and four Cortex-A510 cores) should offer up to 30 percent better peak performance (thanks to the Cortex-X2), 30 percent better overall efficiency (from the Cortex-A710), and 35 percent better “LITTLE” performance from the Cortex-A510 when compared to a comparable Armv8.2 cluster like the ones mentioned above.

Arm is also introducing three new GPUs. There’s the flagship Mali-G710, which promises 20 percent better gaming performance and 20 percent better power efficiency; the Mali-G510, designed as a midrange option for more affordable devices; and the entry-level Mali-G310.

The overall goal is to provide a variety of designs for a wide range of use cases. A computer might rely more heavily on Arm’s Cortex-X2 CPUs and a discrete GPU solution for graphics; a leading smartphone, a CPU cluster of Arm’s range of CPU designs and Mali-G710 GPU; or a smartwatch with fewer demands that just uses a Cortex-A510 and Mali-G310.

It’ll be some time before the new Arm designs show up in phones or devices: Arm still has to give the designs to its partners, who’ll then need to incorporate them into their own semiconductor products (typically announced toward the end of the year), and then those chips have to make their way to phone manufacturers.

So it’ll likely be the beginning of 2022 before the new Arm CPU and GPU designs appear in any phones — and that’s assuming the global semiconductor shortage doesn’t push out next year’s products even further. But it’s still an exciting sneak peek at the potential of what might be coming next in the future of smartphones.

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