ARM big.LITTLE is a heterogeneous computing architecture developed by ARM Holdings, coupling relatively battery-saving and slower processor cores (LITTLE) with relatively more powerful and power-hungry ones (big). Typically, only one "side" or the other will be active at once, but since all the cores have access to the same memory regions, workloads can be swapped between Big and Little cores on the fly. The intention is to create a multi-core processor that can adjust better to dynamic computing needs and use less power than clock scaling alone. ARM's marketing material promises up to a 75% savings in power usage for some activities.
In October 2011, Big.Little was announced along with the Cortex-A7, which was designed to be architecturally compatible with the Cortex-A15. In October 2012 ARM announced the Cortex-A53 and Cortex-A57 (ARMv8-A) cores, which are also compatible with each other to allow their use in a Big.Little chip. ARM later announced the Cortex-A12 at Computex 2013 followed by the Cortex-A17 in February 2014, both can also be paired in a Big.Little configuration with the Cortex-A7.
The clustered model approach is the first and simplest implementation, arranging the processor into identically-sized clusters of "Big" or "Little" cores. The operating system scheduler can only see one cluster at a time; when the load on the whole processor changes between low and high, the system transitions to the other cluster. All relevant data is then passed through the common L2 cache, the first core cluster is powered off and the other one is activated. A Cache Coherent Interconnect (CCI) is used. This model has been implemented in the Samsung Exynos 5 Octa (5410).
In-kernel switcher (CPU migration)
CPU migration via the in-kernel switcher (IKS) involves pairing up a 'Big' core with a 'Little' core, with possibly many identical pairs in one chip. Each pair operates as one virtual core, and only one real core is (fully) powered up and running at a time. The 'Big' core is used when the demand is high and the 'Little' core is employed when demand is low. When demand on the virtual core changes (between high and low), the incoming core is powered up, running state is transferred, the outgoing is shut down, and processing continues on the new core. Switching is done via the cpufreq framework. A complete Big.Little IKS implementation was added in Linux 3.11. Big.Little IKS is an improvement of Cluster Migration, the main difference is that each pair is visible to the scheduler.
The more complex arrangement involves a non-symmetric grouping of 'Big' and 'Little' cores. A single chip could have one or two 'Big' cores and many more 'Little' cores, or vice versa. Nvidia created something similar to this with the low-power 'companion core' in their Tegra 3 SoC.
Heterogeneous multi-processing (global task scheduling)
The most powerful use model of Big.Little architecture is heterogeneous multi-processing (HMP), which enables the use of all physical cores at the same time. Threads with high priority or computational intensity can in this case be allocated to the "Big" cores while threads with less priority or less computational intensity, such as background tasks, can be performed by the "Little" cores.
The paired arrangement allows for switching to be done transparently to the operating system using the existing dynamic voltage and frequency scaling (DVFS) facility. The existing DVFS support in the kernel (e.g.
cpufreq in Linux) will simply see a list of frequencies/voltages and will switch between them as it sees fit, just like it does on the existing hardware. However, the low-end slots will activate the 'Little' core and the high-end slots will activate the 'Big' core.
Alternatively, all the cores may be exposed to the kernel scheduler, which will decide where each process/thread is executed. This will be required for the non-paired arrangement but could possibly also be used on the paired cores. It poses unique problems for the kernel scheduler, which, at least with modern commodity hardware, has been able to assume all cores in a SMP system are equal.
Advantages of global task scheduling
- Finer-grained control of workloads that are migrated between cores. Because the scheduler is directly migrating tasks between cores, kernel overhead is reduced and power savings can be correspondingly increased.
- Implementation in the scheduler also makes switching decisions faster than in the cpufreq framework implemented in IKS.
- The ability to easily support non-symmetrical SoCs (e.g. with 2 Cortex-A15 cores and 4 Cortex-A7 cores).
- The ability to use all cores simultaneously to provide improved peak performance throughput of the SoC compared to IKS.
|SoC||Fabrication||Big cores||Little cores||GPU||Memory interface||Wireless radio technologies||Availability||Devices|
|HiSilicon K3V3||28 nm||1.8 GHz dual-core Cortex-A15||1.2 GHz dual-core Cortex-A7||Mali-T658||H2 2013|
|HiSilicon Kirin 920||28 nm||1.7-2.0 GHz quad-core Cortex-A15||1.3-1.6 GHz quad-core Cortex-A7||Mali-T628 MP4||LPDDR3||LTE Cat 6||Q3 2014||Huawei Honor 6|
|Samsung Exynos 5 Octa (5410 model)||28 nm||1.6-1.8 GHz quad-core Cortex-A15||1.2 GHz quad-core Cortex-A7||PowerVR SGX544MP3||32-bit dual-channel 800 MHz LPDDR3 (12.8 GB/sec)||Q2 2013||Exynos 5-based Samsung Galaxy S4|
|Samsung Exynos 5 Octa (5420 model)||28 nm||1.8-2.0 GHz quad-core Cortex-A15||1.3 GHz quad-core Cortex-A7||Mali-T628 MP6||32-bit dual-channel 933 MHz LPDDR3e (14.9 GB/sec)||Q4 2013||Exynos 5-based Samsung Galaxy Note 3|
|Samsung Exynos 5 Octa (5422 model)||28 nm||2.1 GHz quad-core Cortex-A15||1.5 GHz quad-core Cortex-A7||Mali-T628 MP6||32-bit dual-channel 933 MHz LPDDR3e (14.9 GB/sec)||Q2 2014||Exynos 5-based Samsung Galaxy S5, Odroid-XU3, Odroid-XU4|
|Samsung Exynos 5 Hexa (5260 model)||28 nm||1.7 GHz dual-core Cortex-A15||1.3 GHz quad-core Cortex-A7||Mali-T624||32-bit dual-channel 800 MHz LPDDR3e (12.8 GB/sec)||Q2 2014||Samsung Galaxy Note 3 Neo|
|Samsung Exynos 5 Octa (5430 model)||20 nm||1.8 GHz quad-core Cortex-A15||1.3 GHz quad-core Cortex-A7||Mali-T628 MP6||32-bit dual-channel 1066 MHz LPDDR3e (17.0 GB/sec)||LTE Cat 6||Q3 2014||Samsung Galaxy Alpha|
|Samsung Exynos 7 Octa (5433 model)||20 nm||1.9 GHz quad-core Cortex-A57||1.3 GHz quad-core Cortex-A53||Mali-T760 MP6||32-bit dual-channel 825 MHz LPDDR3e (13.2 GB/sec)||LTE Cat 6||Q4 2014||Samsung Galaxy Note 4 (SM-N910C)|
|Samsung Exynos 7 Octa (7420 model)||14 nm||2.1 GHz quad-core Cortex-A57||1.5 GHz quad-core Cortex-A53||Mali-T760 MP8||LPDDR4||LTE Cat 9||Q2 2015||Samsung Galaxy S6, Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge, Samsung Galaxy Note 5|
|Samsung Exynos 7 Octa (7580 model)||28 nm HKMG||1.5 GHz quad-core Cortex-A53||1.5 GHz quad-core Cortex-A53||Mali-T720 MP2||LPDDR3||LTE Cat 6||Q2 2015||Samsung Galaxy J5, Samsung Galaxy S5 Neo, Samsung Galaxy A5 and A7 (2016)|
|Samsung Exynos 7 Hexa (7650 model)||28 nm HKMG||1.7 GHz quad-core Cortex-A72||1.3 GHz quad-core Cortex-A53||Mali-T820 MP3||LPDDR3||LTE Cat 6||Q1 2016|
|Samsung Exynos 7 Octa (7870 model)||14 nm LPP||1.7 GHz quad-core Cortex-A53||1.7 GHz quad-core Cortex-A53||Mali-T830 MP2||LPDDR3||LTE Cat 6||Q2 2016||Samsung Galaxy Tab A 10.1 (2016)|
|Samsung Exynos 7 Octa (7880 model)||28 nm HKMG||1.8 GHz quad-core Cortex-A72||1.3 GHz quad-core Cortex-A53||Mali-T860 MP4||LPDDR3||LTE Cat 6||Q2 2016|
|Samsung Exynos 8 Octa (8890 model)||14 nm LPP||2.6 GHz quad-core M1||1.6 GHz quad-core Cortex-A53||Mali-T880 MP12||LPDDR4||Downlink: LTE Cat 12, Uplink: LTE Cat 13||Q1 2016||Samsung Galaxy S7 (930F/FD), Samsung Galaxy Note 7 (N930F/FD/G)|
|Renesas Mobile MP6530||28 nm||2.0 GHz dual-core Cortex-A15||1.0 GHz dual-core Cortex-A7||PowerVR SGX544||Dual-channel LPDDR3||LTE Cat 4|
|Allwinner A80 Octa||28 nm||Quad-core Cortex-A15||Quad-core Cortex-A7||PowerVR G6230||Dual-channel DDR3/DDR3L/LPDDR3 or LPDDR2|
|MediaTek MT6595||28 nm||2.2 GHz quad-core Cortex-A17||1.7 GHz quad-core Cortex-A7||PowerVR G6200 (600 MHz)||32-bit dual-channel 933 MHz LPDDR3 (14.9 GB/sec)||LTE Cat 4||Q2 2014|
|MediaTek MT6595M||28 nm||2.0 GHz quad-core Cortex-A17||1.5 GHz quad-core Cortex-A7||PowerVR G6200 (450 MHz)||32-bit dual-channel 933 MHz LPDDR3 (14.9 GB/sec)||LTE Cat 4||Q2 2014|
|MediaTek MT6595 Turbo||28 nm||2.5 GHz quad-core Cortex-A17||1.7 GHz quad-core Cortex-A7||PowerVR G6200 (600 MHz)||32-bit dual-channel 933 MHz LPDDR3 (14.9 GB/sec)||LTE Cat 4||Q3 2014|
|Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 (MSM8992)||20 nm||1.8 GHz Dual-core Cortex-A57||1.5 GHz Quad-core ARM Cortex-A53||Adreno 418||32-bit 933 MHz LPDDR3 (14.9 GB/s)||LTE Cat 6/7||H1 2015||LG G4, Microsoft Lumia 950, Nexus 5X, BlackBerry Priv|
|Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 (MSM8994)||20 nm||2.0 GHz Quad-core Cortex-A57||1.5 GHz Quad-core ARM Cortex-A53||Adreno 430||32-bit dual-channel 1600 MHz LPDDR4 (25.6 GB/s)||LTE Cat 6/7||H1 2015||HTC One M9, LG G Flex 2, OnePlus 2, Microsoft Lumia 950 XL, Nexus 6P|
|Qualcomm Snapdragon 820/821 (MSM8996/MSM8996 Pro)||14 nm LPP||1.8-2.34 GHz Quad-core Kryo||1.36-2.19 GHz Quad-core Kryo||Adreno 530||LPDDR4||Down: LTE Cat 12,
Up: LTE Cat 13
|Nvidia Tegra X1||20 nm||1.9 GHz Quad-core ARM Cortex-A57||Quad-core ARM Cortex-A53||Maxwell GM20B||64-BIT LPDDR4 (25.6 GB/s)||Q2 2015||Nvidia Shield Android TV, Google Pixel C|
|Apple A10 Fusion||16 nm||dual core||dual core||PowerVR GT7600 Plus (six-core)||LPDDR4||Q3 2016||iPhone 7, iPhone 7 Plus|
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- big.LITTLE Processing
- big.LITTLE Processing with ARM CortexTM-A15 & Cortex-A7 (PDF) (full technical explanation)