ARM launches ultra-power-efficient processing

It’s the architects of smart phones that are really pushing the envelope for energy-efficient computing. On Wednesday, processor licensing company ARM (s armh) announced it has designed an ultra-efficient processor core, the Cortex-A7, as well as an energy-efficient method of processing that jumps back and forth between two processors to minimize the energy use of the phone.

ARM says the Cortex-A7 processor is the “most energy-efficient processor the company’s ever developed,” and in the 2013/2014 time frame will be able to deliver entry-level (under $100) smartphones with the equivalent processing performance of today’s $500 smart phones. ARM says the A7 is five times more energy-efficient than its previous processor, the A8, though it is one-fifth the size of the A8.

In addition to the new green processor, ARM says it has developed a method of processing that uses the efficient A7 processor and a high-performance A15 processor on a single system on a chip, and manages the processing across the two processors in an energy-efficient method. Called “Big.LITTLE processing,” essentially, the system selects the efficient A7 processor (little) for any job that doesn’t need high performance (like background tasks), and then when the phone needs a high performance task (like mobile web use) it uses the A15 (big).

ARM says phone and chip companies like Broadcom (s brcm), Compal, Freescale, HiSilicon, LG Electronics, Linaro, OK Labs, QNX, Redbend, Samsung, Sprint (s s), ST-Ericsson and Texas Instruments (s txn) have already shown interest in both of these technologies.

Phone architects are toiling away at efficiency gains like this as a way to create smartphones and tablets that last as long as possible between a charge. In an increasingly mobile world, consumers are doing more and more intensive tasks on their mobile devices, but also expect to be able to have their devices disconnected from an outlet for even greater periods of time.

ARM’s innovation also shows how mobile companies are focusing on future growth in low-end smartphones, particularly in developing countries. Basically, last year’s smartphone tech is getting pushed down into cheap devices for feature phone owners to easily transition to web-connected handsets.

It’s a good thing that phone designers are thinking about energy efficiency and power management in this way; the batteries themselves certainly aren’t getting better very quickly. While the progress of Moore’s Law continues to make computing smaller and faster, there’s no Moore’s Law for batteries, and battery technology has basically stayed the same over the decades (darn you chemistry!)

Image courtesy of ARM, and flickr user GoodNCrazy.