ARM and IBM have been collaborating for 3 years on designing smaller and smaller processors for the industry, improving SoC density, routability, manufacturability, power consumption and performance. Just a year ago, the standard was about 65nm for most ARM Cortex-A8 processors in devices on the market such as the Nexus One. About 6 months ago, 45nm ARM Cortex-A8 processors appeared on the market such as in the ipad/iphone4, galaxy tab/s, droid x/pro. Recent devices with Nvidia Tegra2 are 40nm. The next step for ARM Cortex-A9 dual-core and quad-core processors to appear on the market this year are in designs of 32nm (50% shrink off 45nm node) and 28nm (50% shrink off 40nm node). What's next? They are working on 22nm and 20nm designs for 2012 and have been announcing since ARM Techcon last November that they have 14nm designs for as soon as 2014 that are under work with IBM.
You have to consider, it's not possible to make them smaller than 0nm, there are no minus nanometers. Their achievements in shrinking processor designs are insane. The investments are huge. They have to invest billions of dollars in fundamental research of materials and processes, they have to invent new mathematical tricks. Some of these technologies take 10 years from the lab research to something that can be mass manufactured. To make it feasible, the ARM industry has to collaborate (2).
The reason for wanting smaller process size is to consume less power, to increase performance and to potentially lower cost of devices at the same time (factoring out the increasing cost of R&D for smaller designs through very huge scale).
Watch my video of IBM's Vice President of Semiconductor Research and Development, Dr. Gary Patton, keynoting on how they are getting to 14nm ARM Processor designs and smaller:
ARM was founded on November 27th 1990 in a converted barn outside Cambridge to exploit Acorn's single greatest asset, the intellectual property bound up in its home-grown Acorn - now Advanced - Risc Machine processors. 20 Billion ARM processors have been shipped these past 20 years. 100 Billion are expected for the next 10 years.
ARM's first task was to design a processor chip for the Apple Newton handheld, which for some reason commercially flopped. Could the reason have been its $800 price? Ironically, $800 is the same price consumers are paying for an unlocked iPhone today.
ARM's first profitable year was 1993. The Company's Silicon Valley and Tokyo offices were opened in 1994. The company now has offices and design centres across the world, including San Jose California, Austin Texas, Olympia Washington, Trondheim Norway, Sophia Antipolis Grenoble and Paris France, Grasbrunn Germany, Taipei Taiwan, Kfar Saba Israel, Seoul South Korea, Lund Sweden, Yokohama Japan, Shanghai Beijing and Shenzhen China, Bangalore India and Sentjernej Slovenia.
The founders of ARM consisted of 12 engineers led by Sir Robin Saxby who gave the company its global vision and the innovative licensing model under which it sold not physical silicon but designs for other companies to manufacture.
The introduction of the Nokia 6110 in 1998 was crucial to place ARM as the standard for powering mobile phones. Today, more than 5 billion people on this planet use mobile phones, 100% of which have an average of 2 and a half ARM Processors in them. (one as the main processor, one to control antennas and one for power management? etc). Smart phones have 4 or 5 ARM Processors inside them. (adding WiFi, touch screen controller?)
1998 was also the year ARM went public, it changed its name to ARM Holdings and freed itself of the differing agendas of its backers allowing it to present its products as a neutral platform for licensees who were competing among themselves. The years that followed and until now, demand for the ARM Architecture has exploded, and today chip providers ship more than 5 billion ARM Processors every year.
Now that ARM Cortex processors are proving themselves to be perfect for powering larger screens as in Tablets, it's only a matter of time, maybe weeks or months until multi-core ARM processors break into the Laptop, Desktop and Server markets.
The ARM Cortex-A9 Powered Chrome OS "NexusBooks" that could run 40 hours on a battery using a Pixel Qi screen, that could be sold below $199 within weeks or months from now, that product is the single biggest threat to Intel.
To ARM from ARMdevices.net, Happy Birthday! May the next year bring your designs of Dual-core ARM Cortex-A9 with Mali-400, then Tri-Core and Quad-Core, then ARM Cortex-A15 and Mali-T604 with help from the amazing software from Silicon Valley's Google, Apple, even Microsoft, create massive disruption of the old business models of the old PC/Desktop/Laptop/Server markets of the old Silicon Valley of Intel.
Read the excellent ARM birthday article which inspired most of this one over at: theinquirer.net
Here's a photo of the 12 founders of ARM, from left to right, Harry Meekings, John Biggs, the actual CTO Mike Muller, Jamie Urquhart, Robin Saxby, David Seal, Larry Oldham, Lee Smith, the actual President Tudor Brown (yellow tie), Pete Harrod, Dave Howard and Andy Merrit, many came from Acorn Computers (check out BBC's Micro Men (2009) an entertaining 84mn TV movie about the 1978-1980s Acorn vs Sinclair)
I already guessed it (2, 3, 4), logically, Google is working with ARM to prepare the ARM Powered Google TV boxes to come probably around early next year, by the same time Google TV OS is open sourced. This will allow for cheaper Google TV, probably down towards the $99 price point, depending on some versions of Google TV excluding the HDMI input and IR Blasters features. Here are my guesses for what good value ARM Powered Google TV should be sold at early next year:
Google TV on ARM Cortex-A9, full 1080p playback support, including high bitrates, high profile, h264 in MKV and other containers.
Output only version: $99
Input/Output + IR version: $149
"We are talking to Google, but we have nothing to announce right now," said Tudor Brown, president of ARM, at a technology conference in Taipei on Thursday.
Brown said ARM's latest processors are less expensive and require less power than Intel's Atom processor. "If Google TV is to be mainstream, it must be built on a lower power system, ...on lower cost technology," he said.
This way, all HDTV's shipping with ARM Cortex-A9 will be able to include the full Google TV features for just the additional cost of $25 or a bit more for making each HDTV Smart as Marvell's CEO Dr. Sehat Sutardja explained in his keynote from ARM Techcon.
Tudor Brown announces Mali-T604 and explains the status of the ARM industry. I will link to the full length video once I find the link.
I asked (a bit too late) for an interview with ARM President Tudor Brown as he was checking out of the hotel on the last day of the ARM Techcon, but he had to hurry to be on this bit more important NBC Bay Area Press Here TV broadcast:
Interview with Jem Davies and Ian Smythe on the ARM Mali-T604, the next generation graphics processor. Look forward to some insanely powerful graphics processors with the ARM Cortex-A15 processors that will start to be designed next year and available in consumer products the year after that.
This is a Cache Coherent Computer subsystem. Allows to deliver a whole bunch of new use cases, two Quad Cortex-A15 clusters can be fully I/O coherent with the MAli-T604 graphics.
An interview with Simon Segars at the ARM techcon 2010 about the status of the ARM industry. He is one of the early employees of ARM, joined in 1991, now member of the board of directors, has led the development on many of the ARM CPU products.
High performance, low power, low cost. Tarantino style.
ARM CEO and other Executives provide very interesting quotes in a new article in the New York Times:
The number of ARM chips produced a year, which go into many different products, dwarfs the hundreds of millions of chips sold by Intel, the world’s largest chip maker in terms of revenue. Inevitably, analysts often portray the companies as mortal enemies, dueling for dominance in the chip market. ARM executives play down such a dramatic story line in their typical, low-key fashion.
“People want there to be this David and Goliath struggle between us and Intel,” Mr. East said. “It just isn’t that way.”
I wonder also if Intel strategists are resting on their laurels and not seeing ARM as a threat to its Netbook, Laptop, Desktop, Set-top-box (Google TV) and Server markets?
“We don’t look like Intel,” he said. “We’re never going to be a $100 billion outfit.”
Yet ARM just unveiled new chip designs that could carry its products into servers and networking equipment — Intel’s turf.
Is ARM presaging an era with no more $100 billion giant dominant corporations in the consumer electronics industry? ARM solutions enabled Apple to more than triple its gigantic valuation on the Nasdaq over the past 5 years, but are these mega Silicon Valley companies going to continue to be so large?
Investors appear enthralled by ARM’s business. Over the last year, the company’s shares have nearly tripled, to a close on Friday of $18.34, from a low of $6.52. Rumors have swirled that Apple may acquire ARM, though such a move seems unlikely given ARM’s broad partnership model.
“I laughed about it with the folks at Apple,” Mr. East said. “It is completely nonsensical.”
It is simply not going to happen. The EU and ARM's obligations to its partners would not allow it to happen.
“Apple and the Newton made the company exist,” said Mike Muller, one of the founders of ARM and its chief technology officer. “The Newton never went anywhere, but it got ARM started and gave us some credibility.”
Dealing with hand-held devices and cellphones forced ARM to operate under severe power restrictions. It chased milliwatts, while Intel chased horsepower.
Once ARM has reached the desired level of performance at a desired level of power consumption, then it means ARM can bring competition to a market, which creates an environment for a faster rate of innovation among companies. Once full web browsing is demonstrated to work on ARM, once full WebTV and VOD interfaces fully work on ARM, it will mean that the ecosystem of ARM providers can replace the need for Intel in these areas.
“We’ve always known Cambridge is not the center of the universe,” Mr. Muller said. “If you’re in Silicon Valley, you might make that mistake.”
The company offers choice to customers through various types of licenses. A customer can take ARM’s basic design at face value or choose a license that allows it to create custom products.
“We’re encouraging specialists to do what they’re good at,” Mr. Muller said.
The companies making ARM Cortex A8, A9 and A15 designs, such as Texas Instruments, Freescale, Samsung, ST Ericsson, Nvidia, Rockchip, VIA and Telechips those are using the one type of ARM licence. While Marvell, Qualcomm and Microsoft are using another type of ARM licence which allows them to differently customize their processor technology offerings.
Intel and Microsoft secure the vast majority of profits available in computers and servers, leaving the likes of Hewlett-Packard, Dell and Acer to fight over a few dollars per machine.
Apple has shown that the largest profit margins are available in adopting the ARM ecosystem and philosophy of product design and marketing. It is likely that we will soon see all the major PC, Laptop and Server manufacturers shift to using ARM solutions, which will both allow to lower cost to customers and increase the profit margins at the same time!