ARM announces faster Cortex-M core for embedded apps

While ARM is busy making headway in the 64-bit, high-performance space, it also has a line of embedded microcontrollers (or MCUs) known as the Cortex-M series. Over 8 billion Cortex-M-based chips have shipped since 2005, and 4.6 billion of those shipments took place in the past 18 months alone. Today, ARM is expanding the Cortex-M family with the Cortex-M7, a new high-end offering.

The Cortex-M7 features a 32-bit ARMv7-M core with a six-stage superscalar pipeline. While it's binary-compatible with the previous generation, the new MCU is purported to be twice as fast as the previous-gen Cortex-M4. ARM quotes peak performance of 2,000 CoreMarks for a 400MHz Cortex-M7 chip fabbed on a 40-nm low-power process. (CoreMark puts embedded CPUs through a "realistic mixture of read/write operations, integer operations, and control operations," according to the official FAQ.) When the first 28-nm Cortex-M7 MCUs arrive, which should be in the "not so distant future", they should hit up to 4,000 CoreMarks.

The Cortex-M7 will be able to process images and audio data quickly, enabling features like voice recognition. ARM says the Cortex-M7 will power "smart control systems employed in a range of applications." Those applications will include "motor control, industrial automation, advanced audio, image processing, a variety of connected vehicle applications and other Internet of Things (IoT) uses."

What about smartwatches? While ARM tells us "many smartwatches" are powered by Cortex-M processors, the company adds that high-end wearables, such as those based on Android Wear, will be "better served" by its application processors (namely the Cortex-A series). The Cortex-M7 lacks a memory management unit, which ARM says is required to run "rich" operating systems like Android. In short, the Cortex-M7 probably won't be featured in the next Galaxy Gear—but it may turn up in lower-end smartwatches.

The Cortex-M7 has already been licensed by Atmel, Freescale, and ST Microelectronics, ARM says.

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