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32nm Arm Cortex enables high-def mobile phones

Low-power chip on show at mobile conference

British chip designer Arm will show its first processor this week created with an advanced 32-nanometre manufacturing process, which should improve battery life and functionality in future smartphones.

The company said it will show a low-power Cortex chip manufactured using IBM's 32-nanometre process that could bring features like full 1080p high-definition video to smartphones while drawing less power.

The chip will be shown at the GSMA Mobile World Congress, held in Barcelona from Monday to Thursday. Samples of the chip will appear in early 2010, while devices based on the chip could appear later that year, said James Bruce, manager of North American mobile solutions.

Last week, Intel announced that it would be moving rapidly to 32-bit nanometre production of its microprocessors. Arm wanted to show that its partners will have access to similar technology, Bruce said.

The Arm chips will deliver a higher level of performance compared to those based on current Arm designs, such as the Cortex-A8, which just started to ship. Palm's Pre smartphone, announced last month at CES, is powered by the Cortex-A8 processor.

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High-end smartphones could see a 10 percent to 20 percent improvement in battery life but process data faster with the 32-nm chips, Bruce said. The chips will integrate 1080p video encoding and decoding, and high-speed network capabilities.

The level of integration could also bring better processing capabilities to smartphones. The quad-core Cortex-A9 chip will be the first chip rolled out using the 32-nm process, and it could go into both smartphones and netbooks, Bruce said.

Bruce could not comment on specific devices that will carry the chip.

Arm-based chips are currently manufactured using the 65-nm process, and the company said chips based on its design will move to the 45-nanometer process this year. The nanometer figure refers to the dimensions of the smallest circuits on the chip. Arm's competitors include Texas Instruments and Intel.

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