ARM processors are one of the most widely used microprocessors in the world today. Their low cost, low power consumption, and customizability make them well-suited for a variety of devices and applications.
One of the biggest application areas for ARM processors is mobile devices like smartphones and tablets. The vast majority of mobile devices today use ARM-based processors from companies like Qualcomm, Samsung, and Apple. For example, all iPhones and iPads use custom ARM-based Apple processors like the A13 Bionic. And most Android phones use Snapdragon ARM chips from Qualcomm.
ARM processors are ideal for mobile devices because they are extremely power efficient. This allows mobile devices to have good battery life without being tethered to a wall. ARM’s reduced instruction set computing (RISC) architecture minimizes power consumption. And the small size of ARM processor cores allows system-on-a-chip (SoC) integration of the processor with other components like graphics, LTE modems, etc.
Another major application area for ARM processors is embedded systems. From simple devices like smartwatches to complex systems like self-driving cars, ARM processors power billions of embedded devices. Their low cost makes them economical for mass production. And their customizability allows companies to tailor ARM processors to meet the specific needs of their embedded application.
Some examples of embedded systems using ARM processors include: – Smartwatches and wearables – Home automation systems – Networking/telecom equipment like routers, switches, etc. – Industrial control systems – Automotive infotainment and advanced driver assist systems
ARM processors like the Cortex-M and Cortex-R series are designed specifically for embedded and real-time applications. Their deterministic timing behavior, memory protection, and lockstep cores make them well-suited for safety-critical embedded systems.
Internet of Things (IoT) Devices
ARM processors also power a significant portion of Internet of Things (IoT) devices. From smart home assistants to security cameras to factory automation sensors, ARM processors can be found in all kinds of connected IoT products.
The combination of low cost, low power, and built-in connectivity features like Bluetooth make ARM a popular choice for IoT. ARM offers processor cores tailored for IoT applications. For example, the Cortex-M series features efficient signal processing and sensor integration capabilities for endpoint IoT devices.
While not as common as mobile or embedded applications, ARM processors are also now making their way into the server market. ARM-based server processors from companies like Ampere and Amazon represent the first real competition to Intel and AMD’s domination of server CPUs.
ARM server processors promise significantly higher energy efficiency for cloud workloads. Companies like Amazon AWS, Microsoft Azure, and Alibaba Cloud are deploying experimental ARM-based instances. Although still a small portion of the server market, ARM server adoption is expected to grow steadily in coming years.
Supercomputers and HPC
The rise of ARM is also being felt in high performance computing (HPC) and the supercomputing market. Traditionally, these systems relied on CPUs from Intel, AMD, IBM, and others. But there is now growing interest in leveraging ARM processors for HPC and supercomputing applications.
For example, Fujitsu’s Fugaku supercomputer uses over 150,000 ARM-based Fujitsu A64FX processors. It was ranked #1 in the world on the June 2020 TOP500 list of supercomputers. The energy efficiency and cost advantages of ARM make it an intriguing option for data centers to consider over x86 processors.
Modern connected cars are filled with ARM-based processors powering systems like:
- Infotainment systems
- Digital instrument clusters
- ADAS and self-driving car compute
- Connectivity systems
- Autonomous driving systems
ARM’s automotive processors support functional safety features like ISO 26262 compliance, ASIL certification, and lockstep cores. They also provide features like hardware virtualization for consolidating multiple systems on a single SoC. As cars continue getting “smarter,” ARM will play a pivotal role in their evolution.
Computer Vision and Machine Learning
With computer vision and machine learning workloads exploding, ARM processors are now targeting these emerging applications as well. The ARM Machine Learning processor is designed specifically for machine learning capabilities. And ARM Mali GPUs are optimized for running neural networks and other machine learning algorithms.
ARM is also adding machine learning-specific extensions to its general purpose Cortex-A series processors. Mobile SoCs with integrated ARM processors and neural processing units are now able to run advanced vision and AI applications right on the device.
While not as common as laptops and servers, ARM processors are also starting to emerge in desktop computers. Apple’s M1 ARM processor powers the latest iMac and Mac mini desktop computers. And Windows on ARM laptops like the Surface Pro X show the potential for ARM processors in PCs.
Microsoft and Qualcomm have partnered to bring native Windows support for ARM processors. Although software compatibility challenges remain, ARM-based desktops represent an intriguing shakeup to the status quo of x86 processors powering virtually all PCs.
Parallel Processing and Heterogeneous Computing
ARM processors are well-suited to heterogeneous and parallel processing applications. Their compact core designs allow integrating multiple ARM cores onto a single SoC. ARM also offers multiprocessing platforms like the Cortex-A5 for aggregating multiple SoCs into a single, coherent system.
Technologies like ARM big.LITTLE provide heterogeneous multiprocessing capabilities by combining power efficient cores with high performance cores. This allows workloads to be scheduled dynamically based on requirements. The scalability of ARM makes it attractive for parallel processing applications.
Education and Hobbyist Computing
ARM’s energy efficiency, compact architecture and low cost also make it popular for education and hobbyist computing projects. ARM microcontrollers like the Cortex-M0 power a huge variety of hobbyist electronics and DIY projects. Platforms like the Raspberry Pi use ARM SoCs to deliver low-cost, accessible computing for students and hobbyists.
The simplicity, accessibility and large ecosystem around ARM makes it a great way to learn about practical embedded systems development, computer architecture, operating systems, drivers, compilers and more.
In summary, ARM processors power a vast range of devices and applications ranging from mobile to automotive, embedded to server, IoT to supercomputing. Their flexibility, customizability and scalability make them a platform of choice for meeting the compute requirements of almost any modern smart system.
As computing continues evolving beyond the PC, ARM promises to be at the forefront of the next generation of smart, connected technology.