ARM chips are used in a wide variety of devices and applications. Here is an overview of the major areas where ARM processors are commonly found.
One of the most common uses of ARM processors is in mobile devices like smartphones and tablets. Companies like Qualcomm, Samsung, Apple, and MediaTek design ARM-based processors for mobile devices. In smartphones, the processor runs the operating system, drives the user interface, runs mobile apps, and performs tasks like media processing. In recent years, ARM chips have become significantly more powerful and now rival desktop-class processors while still being energy efficient for mobile use. Most Android phones and Apple iPhones use customized ARM processor designs.
ARM processors are ubiquitous in embedded systems across both consumer and industrial applications. Their low cost and power efficiency make them well-suited for integration into appliances, automotive systems, medical devices, industrial machines, and countless other products. For example, ARM cores are used in millions of microcontrollers that go into embedded electronics. They can run real-time operating systems that control the embedded application. ARM MCUs power things like home automation systems, drones, 3D printers, smart watches, and more. ARM application processors can also enable smart capabilities in devices like smart TVs, cameras, and IoT gadgets.
While not as common as x86 processors, ARM-based server processors represent an emerging market for data center applications. ARM server chips promise greater power efficiency for high-density server installations. Major companies like Amazon and Ampere have developed ARM server processors for their cloud platforms. Microsoft and other cloud providers also support ARM servers. The reduced power draw of ARM servers compared to x86 allows data centers to cut energy costs for massively scaled infrastructure. However, ARM servers still lag behind x86 in software support and raw performance for most workloads.
The same power efficiency benefits that make ARM attractive for servers also lend themselves to supercomputing applications. ARM processors are now being used to build increasingly powerful supercomputers for research and scientific workloads. For example, Japan’s Fugaku supercomputer, currently ranked as the world’s fastest supercomputer, utilizes Fujitsu A64FX ARM-based processors. High core counts and scalability allow ARM chips to power efficient supercomputing systems. However, performance is still behind specialized supercomputing processors like GPUs and IBM Power CPUs for some workloads.
ARM processors are now being integrated into almost every new car at the heart of infotainment, safety, and advanced driver-assistance systems. Qualcomm, NXP, Renesas, and other chip makers have ARM-based microprocessor designs for automotive applications. In fact, over 300 million ARM automotive chips were shipped in 2020. The auto industry uses ARM cores in both safety-critical applications like self-driving algorithms and more consumer-oriented systems like infotainment. ARM’s reliability and maturity make it well-suited for the stringent demands of the auto market.
Networking and Infrastructure
ARM processors also serve communication and networking infrastructure like cellular base stations, routers, gateways, and switches. For example, Qualcomm has ARM-based processors for 5G small cells. Marvell designs ARM processor solutions for data center networking and storage gear. Startups like Ampere and Fungible are using ARM for cloud networking and storage platforms. ARM’s architectural license even allows companies to fully customize ARM cores to tailor them to networking workloads. 5G and edge computing are emerging opportunities for ARM in this space.
Set-top boxes, smart TVs, media streamers, game consoles, and other home entertainment devices have turned to ARM processors for their needs. ARM cores power platforms like Android TV. Apple TV boxes use ARM chips customized by Apple. Amazon’s Fire TV platform is also ARM-based. Microsoft’s Xbox One and Sony’s PlayStation 4 gaming consoles included AMD ARM system-on-chips. ARM processors offer strong media processing abilities and power efficiency vital for home entertainment devices.
Wearable devices need processors that deliver performance within tight size and power constraints. As such, wearable gadgets like smart watches, fitness trackers, VR headsets, and smart glasses rely heavily on ARM processors. Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Wear platforms power many Android smart watches. Apple uses its own ARM chips inside Apple Watch. ARM MCUs also drive simpler fitness bands and trackers. ARM enables the always-on connectivity and voice control many wearables leverage.
The unique demands of drones in terms of weight, power draw, and processing capabilities make ARM attractive for these devices. ARM applications processors and MCUs can efficiently run flight control algorithms, image processing, artificial intelligence, and other critical drone workloads. Qualcomm, NXP, STMicroelectronics, and other chip vendors offer ARM designs tailored for drones. ARM will likely continue expanding into drones as performance increases and enables new applications.
ARM processors similarly provide a compelling processing solution for robotics. Robot makers need low-power but capable chips to run autonomous navigation algorithms, computer vision, motor control, and robot intelligence. NXP, Renesas, STMicroelectronics, and others offer microcontrollers and processors with integrated ARM cores. The availability of open-source robotics code libraries for ARM also helps drive adoption. ARM-based solutions are deployed in industrial, enterprise, and consumer robots.
The vast majority of printers and multi-function printers from major vendors like HP, Canon, Epson, and Brother rely on ARM processors for their core controller and logic. ARM’s mature software ecosystem allows it to support sophisticated printing capabilities. Print engines also benefit from ARM’s power efficiency. ARM MCUs drive basic printers while more advanced ARM application processors power smart printers with connectivity, security, and productivity features.
ARM MCUs and specialty audio DSP cores are widely used in audio products to enable features while minimizing power consumption. Wireless speakers, soundbars, headphones, smart speakers, and high-end audio gear leverage ARM technology. Audio-focused ARM designs provide processing for decoding, audio effects, speech recognition, noise cancellation, and more. Popular audio ARM chips include Qualcomm’s QCC series, NXP’s i.MX RT crossover MCUs, and Cadence audio DSP IPs.
Internet and app-connected toys rely on embedded ARM processors to run their electronics and smart features safely and efficiently. ARM MCUs enable interactivity, speech processing, motor control in sophisticated toys. They also drive smart sensors and wireless connectivity for next-gen toys and gaming devices. For example, Anki’s former robotics and AI toys were powered by NXP’s i.MX ARM chips. ARM will play an increasing role as connected toys grow more advanced.
ARM in Summary
In summary, ARM processors are ubiquitous and span a diverse range of consumer and industrial segments thanks to their power efficiency, customizability, and software maturity. As ARM continues advancing its core designs, introducing new product categories like machine learning accelerators, and moving upstream into servers, it will expand into even more applications and become an increasingly critical computing platform this decade and beyond.