Arm cooking up powerful Cortex-X CPU to beat iPhone performance, says industry watcher

Plus: Analyst believes Samsung might give up on own cores and use Arm designs instead

Arm has confirmed it is working on a CPU core expected to deliver a jump in performance, thus taking aim at the closing the gap between its own chips and those produced by Apple.

The Brit chip design house is developing the next iteration of its Cortex-X line of CPU cores to be the most powerful available at launch, which could be found in devices by the end of 2024 or early 2025.

This is according to Patrick Moorhead, CEO at Moor Insights & Strategy, who wrote in a research note that the core design, codenamed "Blackhawk," is part of a strategy by Arm chief Rene Haas to "eliminate the performance gap between Arm-designed processors and custom Arm implementations."

Moorhead cites claims by Arm that the "Blackhawk" core demonstrates substantial performance gains, specifically the "largest year-over-year IPC (instructions per cycle) performance increase in five years," as measured by benchmarks.

"Blackhawk" is likely to be officially launched in May this year as the Cortex-X5. It should be noted that its predecessor, the Cortex-X4, which was unveiled last year, was also described as "the fastest Arm CPU ever built" at launch - this seems to be a common claim for the chip designer.

A spokesperson at Arm told The Register: "I can confirm the information in the post from Patrick Moorhead is accurate. We will provide more details on Blackhawk when it launches later this year. No further comment at this time."

The Cortex-X4 made up the performance core in Arm's TCS23 blueprint for smartphone system-on-chip (SoC) silicon, as part of a cluster of up to 14 cores, with the rest comprising mid-level and power-efficient core designs. Arm claimed it provided a 15 percent increase in performance over the previous generation while consuming 40 percent less power.

Moorhead's research note makes it seem as if Arm sees Apple as its chief rival in the smartphone market, even though Apple is an Arm licensee and its Arm-based processors are only used to power its own devices such as the iPhone.

This rivalry exists because Apple has designed its own chips that have made the iPhone models pack a performance punch compared with Android devices, which typically run on chips built around Arm’s pre-validated core designs. This only matters if the competitive gap between the custom silicon and the Arm-based designs starts to widen, and the implication is that this is exactly what has been happening.

The result could be increased competition between Arm, Qualcomm, and Apple to deliver better performance in their smartphone CPU designs, Moorhead believes, with Samsung perhaps giving up on developing its own cores and using Arm's designs instead.

Arm is set to report next month on its first full quarter results since the company's public offering on the Nasdaq stock exchange last September. The chip designer had earlier projected revenue for its Q3 for fiscal 2024 to be in the range of $720 million and $800 million, slightly below what analysts were expecting.

According to investment services company Morningstar, Arm stock closed at a post-IPO high of $77.47 on December 28, 2023, but has since fallen to around $72. ®

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