Regarding Windows 8 -what exactly are ARM chips anyway?

All the talk about Windows 8 on ARM processors has been interesting but a lot of you are probably like what are ARM processors anyway and who gives a damn?

Well, I wanted to give us all a refresher course on ARM chips so i went to Wikipedia and got some info.

Basically, ARM is a 32-bit reduced instruction set computer (RISC) instruction set architecture (ISA) developed by ARM Holdings.

It was known as the Advanced RISC Machine, and before that as the Acorn RISC Machine. The ARM architecture is the most widely used 32-bit ISA in terms of numbers produced.

They were originally conceived as a processor for desktop personal computers by Acorn Computers, a market now dominated by the x86 family used by IBM PC compatible and Apple Macintosh computers. The relative simplicity of ARM processors made them suitable for low power applications.

This has made them dominant in the mobile and embedded electronics market as relatively low cost and small microprocessors and microcontrollers.

As of 2007, about 98 percent of the more than one billion mobile phones sold each year use at least one ARM processor.

As of 2009, ARM processors account for approximately 90% of all embedded 32-bit RISC processors. ARM processors are used extensively in consumer electronics, including PDAs, mobile phones, digital media and music players, hand-held game consoles, calculators and computer peripherals such as hard drives and routers.

The ARM architecture is licensable. Companies that are current or former ARM licensees include:

Alcatel-Lucent, Apple Inc., Atmel, Broadcom, Cirrus Logic, Digital Equipment Corporation, Freescale, Intel (through DEC), LG, Marvell Technology Group, Microsoft, NEC, Nuvoton, Nvidia, NXP (previously Philips), Oki, Qualcomm, Samsung, Sharp, STMicroelectronics, Symbios Logic, Texas Instruments, VLSI Technology, Yamaha and ZiiLABS.

ARM processors are developed by ARM and by ARM licensees. Prominent ARM processor families developed by ARM Holdings include the ARM7, ARM9, ARM11 and Cortex. Notable ARM processors developed by licensees include DEC StrongARM, Freescale i.MX, Marvell (formerly Intel) XScale, Nintendo, Nvidia Tegra, ST-Ericsson Nomadik, Qualcomm Snapdragon, the Texas Instruments OMAP product line, the Samsung Hummingbird and the Apple A4.

ARM licensed about 1.6 billion cores in 2005. In 2005, about 1 billion ARM cores went into mobile phones.[7] As of January 2008, over 10 billion ARM cores have been built, and iSuppli predicts that 5 billion a year will ship in 2011.

ARM Ltd does not manufacture and sell CPU devices based on its own designs, but rather, licenses the processor architecture to interested parties.

ARM offers a variety of licensing terms, varying in cost and deliverables. To all licensees, ARM provides an integratable hardware description of the ARM core, as well as complete software development toolset (compiler, debugger, SDK), and the right to sell manufactured silicon containing the ARM CPU.

Like most IP vendors, ARM prices its IP based on perceived value. In architectural terms, the lower performance ARM cores command a lower license cost than the higher performance cores.

In terms of silicon implementation, a synthesizable core is more expensive than a hard macro (blackbox) core. Complicating price matters, a merchant foundry who holds an ARM license (such as Samsung and Fujitsu) can offer reduced licensing costs to its fab customers.

In exchange for acquiring the ARM core through the foundry’s in-house design services, the customer can reduce or eliminate payment of ARM’s upfront license fee.

Compared to dedicated semiconductor foundries (such as TSMC and UMC) without in-house design services, Fujitsu/Samsung charge 2 to 3 times more per manufactured wafer. For low to mid volume applications, a design service foundry offers lower overall pricing (through subsidization of the license fee). For high volume mass produced parts, the long term cost reduction achievable through lower wafer pricing reduces the impact of ARM’s NRE (Non-Recurring Engineering) costs, making the dedicated foundry a better choice.

Many semiconductor or IC design firms hold ARM licenses; Analog Devices, Atmel, Broadcom, Cirrus Logic, Energy Micro, Faraday Technology, Freescale, Fujitsu, Intel (through its settlement with Digital Equipment Corporation), IBM, Infineon Technologies, Nintendo, NXP Semiconductors, OKI, Qualcomm, Samsung, Sharp, STMicroelectronics, Texas Instruments and VLSI are some of the many companies who have licensed the ARM in one form or another.

Approximate licensing costs
ARM’s 2006 annual report and accounts state that royalties totalling £88.7 million ($164.1 million) were the result of licensees shipping 2.45 billion units. This is equivalent to £0.036 ($0.067) per unit shipped. However, this is averaged across all cores, including expensive new cores and inexpensive older cores.

In the same year ARM’s licensing revenues for processor cores were £65.2 million (US$119.5 million), in a year when 65 processor licenses were signed, an average of £1 million ($1.84 million) per license. Again, this is averaged across both new and old cores.

Given that ARM’s 2006 income from processor cores was approximately 60% from royalties and 40% from licenses, ARM makes the equivalent of £0.06 ($0.11) per unit shipped including both royalties and licenses. However, as one-off licenses are typically bought for new technologies, unit sales (and hence royalties) are dominated by more established products. Hence, the figures above do not reflect the true costs of any single ARM product.

Microsoft announced on 5 January 2011 that the next major version of the Windows NT family will include support for ARM processors. Microsoft demonstrated a preliminary version of Windows (version 6.2.7867) running on an ARM-based computer at the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show.

This is from Wikipedia.

Hope this helps…

Onuora Amobi is the Founder and VP of Digital Marketing at Learn About The Web Inc. Onuora has more than a decade of information security, project management and management consulting experience. He has specialized in the management and deployment of large scale ERP client/server systems. In addition to being a former Microsoft MVP and the founder and editor of EyeOnWindows.com, he is the CEO of a Pasadena based online marketing education startup - Learn About The Web Inc. (www.learnabouttheweb.com).

  • Chris

    Thanks for the info…cool to know..