ARM processors are one of the most versatile and widely used types of processors in the world today. From smartphones and tablets, to smart TVs, wearables, and IoT devices, ARM’s RISC architecture offers an optimal balance of performance, power efficiency, and cost that makes it suitable for powering the computers of the future.
Overview of ARM
ARM stands for Advanced RISC Machines, and it refers to a family of reduced instruction set computing (RISC) architectures for computer processors. Originally developed in the 1980s, ARM processors are designed to provide good performance at extremely low power consumption levels. This makes them ideal for use in battery-operated devices.
Unlike some other processor architectures, ARM does not manufacture its own CPUs. Rather, ARM licenses its architectures and processor designs to other semiconductor companies, who in turn fabricate the chips. ARM makes money through an upfront licensing fee as well as ongoing royalties on chips sold by its partners.
This licensing model has allowed ARM’s RISC architecture to become ubiquitous in the embedded computing market. As a result, ARM chips power 95% of smartphones, a large proportion of tablets and smart TVs, and are increasingly being used in embedded devices and IoT applications.
Key Features of ARM Processors
Some of the key features that make ARM processors well-suited for various applications include:
- Power Efficiency – ARM cores are extremely power efficient, allowing longer battery life in portable devices.
- Performance – ARM processors provide good processing performance per MHz, making them competitive with alternatives.
- Cost – The licensable model brings down costs associated with ARM chips.
- Customizability – ARM’s cores can be customized with additional features for specific applications.
- Ecosystem – There is a large ecosystem of tools, software, and support around ARM processors.
Applications of ARM Processors
ARM processors dominate the mobile device market, powering nearly all smartphones and tablets. The combination of performance, power efficiency, and customizability makes ARM a perfect fit for the complex needs of modern mobile devices:
- Smartphones – Used in mobile chipsets from Qualcomm, Samsung, MediaTek, Apple, Huawei, etc.
- Tablets – Used in processors from Apple, Samsung, Qualcomm, Nvidia, etc.
- Wearables – Fitness trackers, smartwatches, VR headsets utilize ARM processors.
For these applications, ARM application processors are optimized to provide burst capability to run intensive workloads while efficiently handling lighter tasks for long battery life.
A wide variety of embedded and IoT devices leverage ARM processors due to their efficiency, customizability, and ecosystem support:
- Industrial – Programmable automation controllers, HMIs, etc.
- Automotive – ADAS, infotainment systems, telematics.
- Medical – Diagnostic equipment, imaging systems, etc.
- Consumer – Smart home assistants, appliances, robots, toys.
- Networking – Routers, switches, wireless access points.
ARM processors can be optimized for real-time responsiveness, reliability, and temperature resilience required in embedded applications.
Servers and Supercomputers
While not as widespread as in embedded devices, ARM processors are now making headway in the server and HPC markets as well:
- Web servers
- Cloud computing
- High performance computing
- Storage servers
ARM server chips provide greater performance per watt compared to traditional server CPUs, helping reduce data center operating costs.
Current ARM Processor Families
Some of ARM’s most popular and widely used processor families include:
- Cortex-A Series – Application processors for mobile and embedded.
- Cortex-R Series – Real-time processors for embedded apps.
- Cortex-M Series – Microcontroller-oriented designs.
- Neoverse Series – Server-optimized processors.
- Ethos Series – Processors for machine learning workloads.
Each processor family is optimized for certain applications and use cases. ARM licensees can either use off-the-shelf ARM cores or customize them to add specialized features and accelerators.
Programming ARM Processors
From an application development perspective, ARM processors can be programmed using:
- Languages – C, C++, Rust, Go, assembly, etc.
- Frameworks – Android, iOS, QT, .NET, etc.
- Tools – gcc, clang, IDEs like Eclipse, Visual Studio, etc.
ARM has an extensive software ecosystem with support across operating systems like Linux, Android, iOS, Windows, and RTOSs. There are both open source and proprietary development tools available.
ARM is well positioned to continue penetrating new markets in the future. Some key trends include:
- Growth in mobile – More smartphones, especially mid-range 5G devices.
- IoT proliferation – Billions of new connected devices.
- AI edge processing – On-device ML with Ethos cores.
- Advanced driver assistance systems in cars.
- 5G infrastructure and edge networks.
- HPC and supercomputing adoption.
ARM’s commitment to pushing the envelope on power efficiency while adapting to new workloads like AI will ensure it remains at the forefront of embedded and mobile computing in the years ahead.