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Broadcom Uses More ARM

February 15, 2013

Author: Linley Gwennap

Broadcom has for the first time taken an ARM architecture license, gaining the right to design its own ARMv7 (32-bit) and ARMv8 (64-bit) CPU cores. These CPUs will initially appear in products from the company's Broadband Communications Group, which offers broadband and video processors. The company also announced its first ARM-based product from this group, the BCM7445; this chip targets high-end set-top boxes (STBs).

Broadcom already uses ARM in its mobile products, including a family of smartphone processors integrating single and dual Cortex-A9 cores. In contrast, the Broadband group has a history of designing its own CPU cores. These cores have used the MIPS instruction set, but the new architecture license will allow the same designers to instead implement the ARM instruction set. These new ARM cores will be compatible with standard ARM development tools and the broad ecosystem of ARM software, reducing Broadcom's support costs and helping its customers create software more easily.

The first CPU that Broadcom developed under the new ARM license is called Brahma15, which appears in the BCM7445. We believe that Broadcom, to reduce time to market, started with the base Cortex-A15 design and made some minor modifications, probably focused on improving performance per watt. According to the company, each Brahma15 CPU delivers the same performance as a 1.5GHz Cortex-A15 (5,250Dmips).

The BCM7445 is currently sampling, with volume production scheduled for mid-2014. In the interim, the company will continue to sell broadband and video products using its MIPS-compatible CPUs, but these products will eventually phase out in favor of the new ARM designs. Broadcom is currently the leading vendor of MIPS processors, shipping more than 200 million units in 2012; within a few years, much of this volume will shift to ARM.

Subscribers can view the full article in the Microprocessor Report.

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