ARM Announces High-Performance IoT-Focused Cortex M7 Chip

ARM announced a new microcontroller chip, designed for the Internet of Things, that has twice the DSP (Digital Signal Processing) performance of its predecessor, the Cortex M4, while maintaining full backwards compatibility. The Cortex M7 will power higher-end embedded applications for next-generation connected devices, vehicles, drones, street lights, appliances and more.

"The addition of the Cortex-M7 processor to the Cortex-M series allows ARM and its partners to offer the most scalable and software-compatible solutions possible for the connected world," said ARM CPU group GM Noel Hurley. "The versatility and new memory features of the Cortex-M7 enable more powerful, smarter and reliable microcontrollers that can be used across a multitude of embedded applications."

Since 2004, more than 8 billion chips from the Cortex M series have been sold. That ARM managed to sell 2.9 billion Cortex M chips in 2013 and 1.7 billion in the first half of 2014 show that these small microcontrollers are the company's highest volume chips.

The new Cortex M7 runs at a speed of 400 MHz with 5 Coremark/MHz, giving it a maximum performance of 2,000 Coremarks. The chip will feature an AXI interconnect supporting 64-bit transfer and integrated optional caches for instruction and data which allow efficient access to large external memory and powerful peripherals. ARM also said that the updates for faster processing of audio, image data and voice recognition will be immediately apparent to users.

"The core also provides the same C-friendly programmer's model and is binary compatible with existing Cortex-M processors. Ecosystem and software compatibility enables simple migration from any existing Cortex-M core to the new Cortex-M7," ARM claimed. "System designers can therefore take advantage of extensive code reuse which in turn offers lower development and maintenance costs."

ARM's partners will also be able to fully customize the chip's design in order to reduce power consumption. The early licensees will be Atmel, Freescale and ST-Microelectronics, although many more should soon follow. ARM's VP of Marketing, Nandan Nayampally, said that the company has 175 licensees for its predecessor, the Cortex M4.

With the IoT market expected to explode over the next few years, many more companies should be interested in such low-power/high-performance chips. Devices featuring the new Cortex M7 chip should appear on the market as early as next year.

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Lucian Armasu
Lucian Armasu is a Contributing Writer for Tom's Hardware US. He covers software news and the issues surrounding privacy and security.