ARM says its smartphone battery-saving technology has wide support

ARM's Big.Little technology will be used by seven companies in chips this year

Seven companies are expected to release chips this year based on ARM's Big.Little processor technology, ARM said at the Mobile World Congress.

Samsung, Fujitsu Semiconductor, MediaTek, Renesas Mobile and CSR were named by ARM, which did not announce the other two companies.

Big.Little design mixes low-power and high-power cores to provide balanced computing power in smartphones and tablets. For example, ARM's latest Cortex-A15 processor handles high-performance processing while the Cortex-A7 design handles low-power tasks like phone calls.

Chips based on the ARM technology usually have an asynchronous design with each separate core handling tasks like application processing, networking and graphics. Big.Little design lets the application processor handle more tasks while saving power.

ARM originally announced Big.Little in 2011, and hopes to put the design on its next-generation 64-bit processors called Cortex-A57 and Cortex-A53. ARM claims that Big.Little reduces energy consumption up to 70 percent on common tasks performed by the applications processor.

ARM designs processors and licenses them to chip makers. Samsung has already shown support for Big.Little in its Exynos 5 Octa eight-core chip, which has four Cortex-A15 cores and four Cortex-A7 cores. The chip was announced at the International CES show in January with more information provided at the ISSCC (International Solid-State Circuits Conference) in San Francisco earlier this month. A prototype tablet based on the Samsung 5 Octa chip is on display at ARM's Mobile World Congress booth this week in Barcelona.

But some of ARM's biggest licensees like Nvidia and Texas Instruments have resisted adopting Big.Little, instead coming up with their own power-efficient chip designs. For example, Nvidia is taking an approach it calls "4+1" on its Tegra chips in which four cores handle high-power tasks, while one low-power core handles tasks such as phone calls and SMS delivery.

Agam Shah covers PCs, tablets, servers, chips and semiconductors for IDG News Service. Follow Agam on Twitter at @agamsh. Agam's e-mail address is agam_shah@idg.com

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