ARM microcontrollers are used in a wide variety of electronic devices and systems. They are known for their low cost, low power consumption, and high performance, making them well-suited for embedded systems and IoT applications.
Many common consumer electronics rely on ARM microcontrollers. Some examples include:
- Smartphones and tablets – ARM processors power the vast majority of smartphones and tablets on the market. Popular mobile SoCs from companies like Qualcomm, Samsung, and Apple are based on ARM architecture.
- Smartwatches and fitness trackers – Wearable tech like Apple Watch, Fitbit, and Garmin watches use ARM chips to balance performance and power efficiency.
- Smart home devices – Smart speakers, thermostats, security systems, appliances and more are powered by ARM microcontrollers. They provide the brains behind home automation and the Internet of Things.
- Game consoles – ARM-based processors are found in handheld gaming devices as well as home consoles like the Nintendo Switch.
- Drones – Many popular consumer drones use ARM microcontrollers to handle flight control, sensors, camera stabilization and more.
- Wireless headphones – Bluetooth headphones rely on low-power ARM chips for audio decoding, noise cancellation and connectivity.
In consumer electronics, ARM’s RISC architecture provides an efficient and cost-effective solution for embedded applications that require low power draw and high performance per watt.
Beyond consumer devices, ARM microcontrollers have many industrial and commercial uses including:
- Internet of Things (IoT) devices – Connected sensors, motors, monitors and control systems depend on ARM chips.
- Industrial automation – ARM microcontrollers manage assembly lines, robotics, 3D printers and more.
- Automotive systems – ARM processors power infotainment, advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), battery management systems, and engine control units in cars.
- Networking equipment – ARM is used across routers, switches, firewalls, load balancers and other networking gear.
- Medical devices – Portable health monitors, infusion pumps, imaging systems and more are powered by ARM. Reliability and power efficiency are key.
- Point of sale (POS) systems – ARM microcontrollers feature in POS terminals, cash registers, barcode scanners for checkout.
- Space systems – ARM processors are found on satellites and spacecraft due to their power efficiency and radiation resistance.
For these types of industrial applications, ARM microcontrollers offer high performance capabilities while meeting size, cost and ruggedness requirements.
ARM Cortex-M Series
Within ARM’s product portfolio, the Cortex-M series of microcontroller units (MCUs) are widely used across embedded and IoT applications. Some key advantages of Cortex-M processors include:
- Optimized for low-cost devices – Cortex-M MCUs are affordable and minimize bill-of-materials costs.
- Energy efficiency – Features like sleep modes and memory architecture optimize power draw.
- High performance – Cortex-M delivers processing speed needed for real-time control and signal processing.
- deterministic timing – Real-time applications benefit from predictable instruction timing.
- Scalability – The Cortex-M series scales from the small M0 chips up to high-end M7 processors.
- Ecosystem support – There is broad tool and software support for Cortex-M devices.
Within the Cortex-M family, some of the most widely used ARM microcontrollers include:
- Cortex-M0 – Ultra low power 32-bit MCU for simple embedded applications.
- Cortex-M3 – Feature-rich MCU with DSP and floating point support.
- Cortex-M4 – High-performance MCU with digital signal processing (DSP).
- Cortex-M7 – Highest performance MCU for analytics and machine learning.
- Cortex-M23 – ARMv8-M architecture designed for embedded security.
- Cortex-M33 – Includes TrustZone technology for trusted execution environments.
These Cortex-M MCUs offer a tiered range of capabilities well-suited for the demands of IoT and embedded applications.
Designing with ARM microcontrollers is supported by a range of development tools and software. Some key options include:
- IDEs – Integrated development environments like Keil MDK, IAR EWARM, and Arm Mbed Studio simplify coding, compiling and debugging.
- RTOS – Real-time operating systems like FreeRTOS enable multithreading on resource-constrained devices.
- Embedded C/C++ – Programming languages optimized for microcontrollers.
- Dev boards – Affordable development boards feature ARM evaluation chips and peripherals.
- Debuggers – JTAG debug probes and debuggers like SEGGER J-Link provide real-time debugging.
- Emulators – Virtual models of ARM processors speeds up software development.
- Cloud tools – Services like Arm Pelion IoT platform help manage IoT device fleets.
This accessible and low-cost design ecosystem has fueled the popularity of ARM microcontrollers across a massive range of embedded and IoT products.
ARM Licensing and Ecosystem
A key factor in ARM’s dominance is its fabless semiconductor business model. ARM designs and licenses processor IP rather than manufacturing chips directly. This model has allowed:
- Fast proliferation across the industry – Hundreds of companies license and integrate ARM processors.
- Shared R&D costs – ARM invests in advancing its architecture while partners share costs.
- Customization – Partners can optimize ARM processors for their specific application.
- Interoperability – ARM’s consistent architecture enables software reuse across the ecosystem.
In addition to ARM processor IP, the company offers complementary physical IP components critical to chip design like interface, security, and multimedia options. This complete platform approach has made ARM an integral part of the semiconductor supply chain.
ARM microcontrollers power a massive range of consumer and industrial electronics. Key factors driving ARM’s dominance are its energy efficiency, broad portfolio scaling from tiny wearables to cloud servers, extensive development ecosystem, and fabless licensing model enabling low-cost custom silicon solutions. For embedded and IoT applications requiring low cost and power efficiency, ARM microcontrollers will continue proliferating across devices and systems for the foreseeable future.