It’s that time of the year again, and after last month’s unveiling of Arm’s newest infrastructure Neoverse V1 and Neoverse N2 CPU IPs, it’s now time to cover the client and mobile side of things. This year, things Arm is shaking things up quite a bit more than usual as we’re seeing three new generation microarchitectures for mobile and client: The flagship Cortex-X2 core, a new A78 successor in the form of the Cortex-A710, and for the first time in years, a brand-new little core with the new Cortex-A510. The three new CPUs form a new trio of Armv9 compatible designs that aim to mark a larger architectural/ISA shift that comes very seldomly in the industry.

Alongside the new CPU cores, we’re also seeing a new L3 and cluster design with the DSU-110, and Arm is also making a big upgrade in its interconnect IP with the new cache coherent CI-700 mesh network and NI-700 network-on-chip IPs.

The Cortex-X2, A710 and A510 follow up on last year's X1, A78 and A55. For the new Cortex-X2 and A710 in particular, these are direct microarchitectural successors to their predecessors. These parts, while iterating on generational improvements in IPC and efficiency, also incorporate brand-new architectural features in the form of Armv9 and new extensions such as SVE2.

The Cortex-A510, Arm's new little core, is a larger microarchitectural jump, as it represents a new clean-sheet CPU design from Arm’s Cambridge CPU design team. A510 brings large IPC improvements while still having a continued focus on power efficiency, and, perhaps most interestingly, retains its characteristic in-order microarchitectural.

An Armv9 CPU Family – AArch64 only for all practical purposes*

The new CPU family marks one of the largest architectural jumps we’ve had in years, as the company is now baselining all three new CPU IPs on Armv9.0. We've extensively covered the details of the new Arm architecture back in late March. Cornerstone features of the new ISA include the new enrollment of prior optional/missing Armv8.2+ features that weren’t guaranteed in mobile and client designs (mostly due to the older A55 cores), and the introduction of new SVE2 SIMD and vector extensions.

One big change we’ve been expecting for quite some time now is that we’ll be seeing a deprecation of the 32-bit AArch32 execution mode in upcoming Arm Cortex-A mobile cores. The clock has been ticking for 32-bit apps ever since Google’s announced in 2019 that the Google Play store will require for 64-bit app uploads, and the company will stop serving 32-bit applications to 64-bit compatible devices later this summer

While Arm is declaring that shift to happen in 2023, for all intents and purposes it’s already happening next year for most global users. Both the Cortex-X2 flagship core and the Cortex-A510 little cores are AArch64-only microarchitectures that are no longer able to execute AArch32 code.

With that said, sharp readers will note that two out of three CPUs isn't a complete shift, and the reason for that is because the Cortex-A710 actually still supports AArch32. Arm states that the reason for this is primarily to meet the needs of the Chinese mobile market, which lacks the homogeneous ecosystem capabilities of the global Play Store markets, and Chinese vendors and their domestic app market require a little more time to facilitate the shift towards 64-bit only. This means we’ll have an odd scenario next year of having SoCs on which only the middle cores are able to execute 32-bit applications, with those apps being relegated to the middle A710 cores and missing out on the little A510 cores’ power efficiency or the X2 cores’ performance.

On the big core side, the new Cortex-X2 and Cortex-A710 are successors to the Cortex-X1 and Cortex-A78. Both designs are mostly designed by Arm’s Austin design team, and represent the 4th generation of this microarchitecture family, which had started off with the Cortex-A76 several years ago. These cores should be the last of this microarchitecture family before Arm hands things off to a completely new design with next year’s new Sophia cores.

In terms of design philosophy, the X2 and A710 generally keep the same overarching goals the X1 and A78 had defined: The X-series continues to focus on advancing performance by increasing microarchitectural structures and by Arm being willing to make compromises on power within reasonable limits. Meanwhile the A710 continues to focus on advancing performance and efficiency through smarter design and with a large focus on maximizing the power, performance, and area (PPA) balance of the IP.

One point Arm makes in the above slide is having optimized critical paths and physical design for sustained voltage operations – this is more of a goal the company is striving for in the next generations of “middle” cores rather than something that’s specifically reflected in the Cortex-A710.

This year, we are also finally seeing a new little core. We had covered the Cortex-A55 back in 2017, and since then we haven’t had seen any updates to Arm’s little cores, to the point of it being seen as large weakness of last few generations of mobile SoCs.

The new Cortex-A510 is a clean-sheet design from Arm’s Cambridge design team, leveraging a lot of the technologies that had been employed in the company’s larger cores, but implemented into a new in-order little microarchitecture. Yes – we’re still talking about an in-order core, and Arm still sees this to be the best choice in terms of extracting the best efficiency and “Days of use” of mobile devices.

Even though it’s a in-order core, Arm made a comparison that the new design is extremely similar to a flagship core of 2017 – namely the Cortex-A73, achieving very similar IPC and frequency capabilities whilst consuming a lot less power.

The new design also comes with a very interesting shared complex approach and shares the L2 and FP/SIMD pipelines with a second core, a design approach Arm calls “merged core” and undoubtedly will remind readers of AMD’s CMT approach in Bulldozer cores 10 years ago, even though there are quite important differences in the approaches.

The Cortex-X2: More Performance, Deeper OoO
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  • ChrisGX - Monday, May 31, 2021 - link

    There is one part of Andrei's analysis of the X2 core that I don't get. I do get the scepticism about ARM's optimistic estimate of a 30% lift in peak performance being on offer given the dismal underperformance of Samsung's 5nm silicon but my reading of what ARM has said is that the 16% performance gain for the X2 is ISO process, i.e. on the same silicon process at the same power and frequency. Am I wrong to read this as (effectively) an IPC gain without an energy cost associated with it? (Let us ignore for the moment such good news will likely be dashed due of Samsung's iffy silicon.) I know that sounds like a very rosy picture but isn't that the picture that ARM painted? In this context I don't get Andrei's suggestion of a lineal increase in power for that peak performance gain.

    Personally, I find the claim of a 16% performance gain hard to believe (and the 30% number after unspecified silicon process improvements and processor clock boost, presumably, even harder to believe). Still, I want to be clear on what ARM is claiming and what I have missed (if anything). Any comments would be welcome.
  • ChrisGX - Monday, May 31, 2021 - link

    I have just reviewed Andrei's analysis again and I note he referred to a power increase (not a lineal power increase in proportion to the 16% performance increase) drawing particularly attention to the increased cache size.
  • ChrisGX - Wednesday, June 2, 2021 - link

    Regarding the projections of a 30% peak performance increase for a premium mobile SoC in 2022 I can't see how to get to that performance number (after a 16% IPC increase) without a) the prime X2 core being clocked at around 3.3GHz - 3.35GHz and b) corresponding silicon process improvements that permit lower voltages (at the increased core frequency). That implies a process that is better than TSMC's N5.

    For an 8 core X2 based SoC for consumer computers that performs at a peak rate of 1.4x the performance of a Core i5-1135G7 (which would represent a truly stunning level of performance) I think the SoC would have to be clocked at around 3.7GHz - 3.8GHz (again on a process that is markedly better than TSMC's N5). Performance like that, of course, won't come without elevating core and SoC power consumption to a significant degree.

    Getting performance outcomes as good as that doesn't seem especially likely to me.
  • mode_13h - Wednesday, June 2, 2021 - link

    Thanks for the analysis. If correct, this could mark the opening of a significant credibility gap, in ARM's projections.
  • ChrisGX - Sunday, June 6, 2021 - link

    I just had a look at the PPA Improvements that TSMC has advertised for its N4 process (there are unconfirmed claims that Qualcomm will be using N4 for the next premium SoC for flagship Android mobile phones) and I don't see ARM's projected performance numbers being reached on that process. N3 would do it but we won't see that before 2H2022. Without inviting thermal problems a performance improvement of 24% at 3.2GHz might fall within the bounds of possibility. (Note: Information on the N4 process is thin but I have assumed 7% more performance will be available at the same power compared to N5. With additional performance improvements of 16% from IPC gains - without pushing the power budget - a performance lift of 24% seems feasible.)
  • rohn287 - Thursday, December 2, 2021 - link

    Just asking, why not use 2-X2 cores with 2 higher clocked A710 and 2 normal A710. This will help reduce heat and increase performance in Android phones. Similar to Apples approach.
  • The Futuristic - Saturday, April 2, 2022 - link

    I know it's too late for comment, but the processors with this core have just entered the market. Depending on them and comparing them with Apple A15 E cores especially, I think they should start using cortex A710 as E cores instead of cortex A55. Apple E cores consumes around 0.44watt, cortex A78 in dimensity 1200 at 6nm uses 1.16W for same performance. So A710 is 30% efficient for same and taking it even further on 5nm. It will close the gap between Apple E cores and cortex cores. So 2x cortex X2 + 4x cortex A710 configured CPU, will catch Apple A15 in multi-core atleast.
  • yeeeeman - Wednesday, May 11, 2022 - link

    we're getting very close to the cortex x3 announcement.
  • yeeeeman - Saturday, June 4, 2022 - link

    seems like arm is missing the end of may announcements this year. anyone knows why?

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