ARM Cortex-based Netbooks due soon

An executive of the chip architecture licenser does not confirm which companies may be manufacturing subnotebooks using ARM-based semiconductors.

David Meyer Special to CNET News.com
2 min read

Netbooks using ARM's next-generation processor architecture will be announced soon, according to a senior executive at the company.

Rob Coombs, director of mobile solutions at the U.K. processor design company, told ZDNet UK on Wednesday that Cortex-A8- and Cortex-A9-based application processors would find their way not only into smartphones--as with most ARM architecture--but also into small, low-cost subnotebooks.

"In the future, we're going to be in Netbooks," Coombs said. "Expect announcements in the next few months."

Currently ubiquitous ARM-based smartphone processors are commonly based on the company's ARM11 microarchitecture. The successor to ARM11 will be Cortex-A8, and processors based on this architecture are scheduled to find their way into handsets next year.

Coombs said there are "people playing around with gigahertz speeds" using Cortex-A8 architecture.

Cortex-A9 is the multicore sister to Cortex-A8, and it is likely to go into use around 2010. Multicore processors provide power advantages, as multiple cores running at a lower speed can process more instructions per watt than can single high-speed cores.

Coombs declined to explicitly name manufacturers that might be gearing up to announce Netbooks using Cortex-based chips, instead referring to a published list of ARM's licensees. Cortex-A8 licensees include Samsung Electronics, STMicroelectronics, Texas Instruments, Broadcom, PMC-Sierra, Matsushita Electric Industrial (Panasonic), and Freescale Semiconductor. Those signed up to license the Cortex-A9 architecture include NEC, Nvidia, STMicroelectronics, TI, and Toshiba.

Nvidia has already announced its intention to put ARM11-based processors into mobile Internet devices (MIDs), which range between smartphones and Netbooks in size.

ARM's move into Netbook territory puts it in strong competition with Intel, itself an ARM licensee. Intel processors, including its Atom low-power x86 design, are currently very common in Netbooks, a category Intel itself named. Intel also hopes to move into smartphone territory with its next generation of Atom chipsets, with chief executive Paul Otellini predicting products in late 2009.

While Microsoft has not produced an ARM-compatible version of its mainstream Windows operating system, the chip architecture is supported by Windows CE, multiple Linux distributions, and a version of Apple's OS X.

Apple itself is strongly rumored to have an ARM license. It recently acquired P.A. Semi, a chip design company with extensive experience of designing with that architecture.

David Meyer of ZDNet UK reported from London.