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Muscle chip strength leaves ARM shouldering meaty profit

High-end RISC cores boost $773m revenue headline

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ARM, the eponymous designer of the chip architecture, had a stonking 2011 with revenue and profits up as it tightened its hold on both embedded and generic computing.

Revenue for the last quarter of 2011 was up by more than 20 per cent on the previous year, to £137.8m, while profit before tax jumped more than twice that percentage to £69m. For the whole of 2011 the numbers are very similar, revenue hitting £491.8m ($773m) and profit topping £229.7m ($362m), rather better than analysts had predicted.

Those numbers come on the back of 2.2 billion ARM-powered chips being sold globally in 2011, but equally important is the proportion of high-end silicon shifted, which generates bigger royalties than ARM's basic processor cores that are found embedded in white goods.

ARM, which is still based in Cambridge, licenses its RISC processor designs to fabs including Qualcomm and Samsung. ARM chips appear in just about every mobile phone and tablet computer, including the iPhone, but the older designs also pop up in everything from washing machines to talking toys.

So when pundits, and politicians, talk about the "internet of things" most of those things will have an ARM processor embedded inside them.

All of which generates licence fees for ARM, but it's the high-end chips that bring in the headline numbers. Once Windows 8 rolls out, the companies licensing ARM's blueprints will be able to compete with Intel on a level playing field, as Microsoft's new OS will happily run on either platform - which can only increase the number of ARM processors being produced.

Device manufacturers love ARM as it gives them a choice of suppliers - a phone maker can buy ARM chips from Samsung, Qualcomm or half a dozen other licensees, a factor which is just as important as the fabled power-sipping circuits from ARM's eggheads. ®

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