128-bit or 64-bit? Qualcomm and ARM see things differently

November 22, 2013
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Barely into 64-bit architecture, a new report suggests that ARM is working on 128-bit technology for release in 2014. The folks at ARM roundly dispute that claim, noting that the 64-bit chipsets currently entering the market are more than adequate. Their competition may not agree.


Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 805 is a beast of a processor, and lays claim to the title of first mainstream, mobile 128-bit processor. While impressive, ARM feels “128 bits is 64 bits too many”. They may be right, too. In a blog post, ARM notes that their 32-bit architecture holds up fine, while 64-bit chipsets can take us to the next level and beyond.

Again, they may be right. We’re just now entering the 64-bit realm, and not yet sure just what that can bring to the table. There will, undoubtedly, be a glass ceiling all OEMs and supply chain manufacturers will hit. In getting there, it’s important that OEMs like ARM and Qualcomm make the most of what they currently have on offer. We’ve only just seen the first 64-bit devices from Apple, and while they’re good for a first generation device, they will be able to do so much more with software and app improvements.

ARM

Therein lies the problem. We need a symbiotic relationship between hardware and software, and constantly outpacing the competition only lends itself to a worsening experience. Android Developers are already taxed with having to support a seemingly endless line of hardware iterations, and to keep pushing the envelope could only make it worse.

The Snapdragon 805 will ship early next year, just like ARM’s 64-bit offering. We can pontificate on the merits of the “spec wars” quite a bit, but the proof is coming. Will ARM be able to outclass the Snapdragon 805 with a solid 64-bit chipset, or do specs actually matter? I guess that’s for us to decide.


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  • brennanyama

    yeah… ARM Holdings and Qualcomm are not competitors, they’re partners. ARM Holdings designs and licenses the ARM architecture. Silicon manufacturers (e.g. Samsung (Exynos), Apple (Ax), nVidia (tegra), Qualcomm (Snapdragon), TI (OMAP), Huawei (whatever they call their stuff), etc.) pay ARM licensing fees (royalties) to manufacture CPUs based on the ARM instruction set. ARM Holdings doesn’t manufacture CPUs, they’re a design company…

    Most silicon manufacturers directly manufacture their CPUs directly from the ARM instruction set (ARMv7), but Qualcomm in particular has made a name for themselves because they take the ARM design, and but add modifications to their CPU design (Scorpion and Krait) to increase performance and/or decrease power consumption, whilst retaining ARM architecture compatibility. Clearly this gamble has paid off, as Qualcomm now dominates the ARM-based CPU space. While I’m grossly oversimplifying, most would agree that the Qualcomm Krait core design is superior to the “stock” ARM Cortex A15 core from which the Krait was designed (why modify something if you’re not going to make it better?)

    The ARMv8 architecture, which is likely releasing in 2014, adds support for 64-bit CPUs, but clearly Qualcomm feels that going for 128-bits in their next gen-CPUs will be beneficial. Whether or not this is true is up in the air (I suspect that going 128 bit will pose some pretty significant compatibility hurdles), but certainly ARM Holdings has nothing to lose, so long as their partners continue to pay ARM their royalties.

    blah blah

    • tiger

      Huh?! You have the same idiotic understanding as the author! There is no 128 bit processor in any plans in a smartphone! The author is idiotic!

      And yeah, whatever Qualcomm is doing, it is still a step behind Apple.

  • http://blog.cocchiararo.com.ar/ Roberto

    As far as i know, the snapdragon 805 has a bus WIDTH of 128 bits.

    It is NOT a 128bits “architechture” like you are thinking/implying (like x86 vs x86_64 or ARMv7 vs ARMv8 in the latest apple chip).

    This is talking memory bus width, like when gpus have 64/128/256/384/512 bits buses

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jean-Luc-Aufranc/100000690503162 Jean-Luc Aufranc

      Correct. Snapdragon 805 is using Krait450 cores which are based on ARMv7 instructions set, so it is actually a 32-bit processor.

  • NickFe

    I just wonder if who wrote this piece has the faintest idea of what he’s talking about… ARM is not OEM. It rather licenses the ARM technology to many CPU manufacturers. Qualcomm does not use ARM designs but their own, although these are compatible with ARM instructions (Apple does the same). So they are not competitors, they don’t even do the same thing.

    The Snapdragon 805 is not a 128bit system. It has a 128bit bus, but it’s an otherwise ordinary 32bit SoC. So the all argument made in this article is faulty and irrelevant. ARM already has a 64bit design and instruction set in place (ARMv8). There are currently no manufacturers using this design, other than Apple having its own design that is compatible with the ARMv8 instruction set. Qualcomm might be launching 64bit SoC in the near future but it is all to be seen. As for pure 128but chips, well, that is going to happen in a VERY long time. Gosh, not even x86 CPU exists with full support of 128bit.

    So “ARM 64bit outsmarting a 128bit snapdragon”? It’s probably a good idea to get some of the knowledge right before venturing in this total nonsense. And if there is something to be seen is if the spapdragon 805 32bit will be able to outsmart some new ARM 64bit.

    • AndrewLees

      Totally agree, this article is full of holes and should be taken down. All the companies pay the license to ARM, for the use of the instruction set. Even Intel are joining in and producing their own ARM based chip (for next year, apparently). ARM own the instruction set and design chipset designs that other companies (Qualcomm, Apple, Samsung, Intel) can modify to their heart’s content. I hate reading badly informed articles that think ARM are a chip building company who are in competition with these other companies. A little known fact is that ARM’s biggest customer is (check this for yourselves) Intel. Followed (of course) by Samsung, then Qualcomm, TSMC, AMD and then Apple. Quite what the hell Intel and AMD are paying ARM for is beyond me!

  • Wes

    Yeah this is a really badly written article. The author has no freaking clue what they’re talking about. Very poorly researched and even poorly written. Please get your facts straight and get people with a proper technical background to write articles like these. The snapdragon 805 is still a 32bit processor. It uses a 128bit memory channel. Even apple used a 128bit memory channel with the A6x and they’ve actually moved down to a 64bit memory channel architecture with the A7. The A7 is still the only true 64bit processor currently being shipped in a mobile device. Please have this article taken down. Its bad reporting.

    • tiger

      Apple A7 compensates by having SRAM.

  • tiger

    This author is an idiot…and aren’t you Android folks supposed to be tech savvy? Ouch…this is a major butt hurt!

  • Neel Gupta

    Snapdragon 805 SoC RAM interface is 64 bit dual channel, 2 x 64 bit = 126 bit
    Snapdragon 805 chip supports over 4 GB RAM through 40-bit Large Physical Address Extensions (LPAE).
    Snapdragon 805 chip CANNOT run 64 bit applications, and therefore NOT 64 bit CPU !

    • tiger

      BTW, 2 x 64 = 128, not 126. :)

      • Neel Gupta

        oops sorry, fixed

  • Ryan Barone

    Cowboys and Indians. All of it.