ARM Holdings plc is a British multinational semiconductor and software design company headquartered in Cambridge, England.Its current CEO is Warren East.
ARM was founded in 1990 as a joint venture between Acorn Computers, VLSI Technology, and Apple Inc. ARM originally stood for Acorn RISC Machine, later Advanced RISC Machine.
Using the RISC (Reduced Instruction Set Computing) approach, the core ARM processor requires only 35,000 transistors, compared to the millions in many conventional processor chips. This results in reduced power usage, making it very attractive in smaller devices.
ARM makes the processors that run the Surface RT as well as most smartphones and tablets in the world. Just as Intel dominates the desktop, ARM dominates the mobile world. In fact, ARM-based chips are the most widely used 32 bit processors in the world.
In 2011, ARM’s customers reported 7.9 billion ARM processors shipped, representing 95% of smartphones, 90% of hard disk drives, 40% of digital televisions and set-top boxes, 15% of microcontrollers and 20% of mobile computers.
The ARMv7 processor launched in 2011 was the first to have a 64-bit architecture.
Unique among chip designers and in contrast with Intel, silicon designer ARM has no chip foundries itself, relying on others to manufacture its chips.
A few dozen companies make ARM-designed processors. The licensees include Intel, Samsung,Texas Instruments, Analog Devices, Freescale, Nvidia, and Qualcomm. In the fourth quarter of 2010, 1.8 billion ARM-designed chips were manufactured.
Last week, ARM designers and developers met at their annual show, ARM TechCon in Santa Clara in the United States.
ARM-designed chips are not limited to mobile devices though. Calxeda for example, uses the ARM architecture to build systems for data centers. The popular Raspberry Pi single-board computer is based on an ARM chip. When it launched in January 2012, it had 256MB of memory.
In addition, AMD recently announced it would use ARM products in its server products.
Microsoft decided to move from long-time partner Intel in developing Windows 8 RT, designed specifically for ARM-based devices.
Therefore, the Samsung Galaxy S III running Android, Apple’s iPhone 5 (on iOS) and the Windows Phone 8-based Nokia Lumia 900 are all powered by processors based on ARM architecture.
ARM therefore has little concern who comes out on top in the smartphone world with a heads-I-win, tails-you-lose situation. That’s not a bad place to be.
For Microsoft however, ARM processors are playing a huge part in the next major strategic move for the company – the entry into mobile computing.