Feeds

ARM creators Sophie Wilson and Steve Furber

Part Two: the accidental chip

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

Unsung Heroes of Tech The Story so Far At Acorn, Sophie Wilson and Steve Furber have designed the BBC Micro, basing the machine on the ageing MOS 6502 processor. Their next challenge: to choose the CPU for the popular micro's successor. Now read on...

While Sinclair attempted to move upmarket with the launch of the QL in early 1984, Acorn was trying to invade Sinclair's lucrative low-end territory with a cut-down version of the BBC Micro, to be called the Electron. UK resellers assumed the Electron would be as big a success as the BBC Micro. They ordered in hundreds of thousands, but as the units stacked up in the warehouse the market collapsed.

MOS 6502

MOS' 6502: good enough for the Electron, not the BBC Micro's successor

While Acorn was heading into cash-flow problems, Wilson and Furber had already become engaged in what would prove to be the biggest adventure of their lives. This wasn't just the next Acorn computer, although that's how it had started, two years earlier.

By 1983, the 8-bit 6502 processor had outlived its shelf life, and Wilson and Furber had been experimenting with available 16-bit processors to power their next machine. The Motorola 68000, the NatSemi 32016 and the many others they'd evaluated all had one flaw in common: not being able to make anything like full use of the memory bandwidth that was becoming available.

“If we were going to use 16- or 32-bit wide memory, we could build a system that would run up to 16, 20 or even 30Mb per second," says Wilson. But the processor was the bottleneck.

With the success of the BBC Micro, Hauser and Curry had been persuaded that an investment in chip design might be a good next move — not necessarily with the idea of Acorn getting into the chip business itself, but to help the company become more informed about this fundamental component of its business.

Hauser had even gone to the lengths of hiring three integrated-circuit designers and buying in chip design tools and workstations. And he’d dumped a bunch of papers on the desks of Wilson and Furber, relating to a novel chip design idea that originated from IBM. Reduced Instruction Set Computing (Risc) meant creating processors that used a limited set of simple instructions rather than the increasingly complex instructions that tended to slow down processors like the 32016.

Sophie Wilson talks ARM: Source: Wikimedia

Sophie Wilson talks ARM
Source: Wikimedia

Wilson and Furber started visiting processor manufacturers. Typically they’d find, as Wilson says of a trip to NatSemi’s plant in Israel, “a huge building full of thousands of engineers”. Wilson’s affection for the 6502 also took them, in October of 1983, to the Western Design Centre in Phoenix, Arizona, where Bill Mensch was working on a version of the chip that would support 24-bit addressing.

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

More from The Register

next story
TEEN RAMPAGE: Kids in iPhone 6 'Will it bend' YouTube 'prank'
iPhones bent in Norwich? As if the place wasn't weird enough
George Clooney, WikiLeaks' lawyer wife hand out burner phones to wedding guests
Day 4: 'News'-papers STILL rammed with Clooney nuptials
iPAD-FONDLING fanboi sparks SECURITY ALERT at Sydney airport
Breaches screening rules cos Apple SCREEN ROOLZ, ok?
Crouching tiger, FAST ASLEEP dragon: Smugglers can't shift iPhone 6s
China's grey market reports 'sluggish' sales of Apple mobe
A moment of brilliance? UPnP for Internet of Stuff lightbulbs
Thus doth tech of future illuminate present, etc
Apple's new iPhone 6 vulnerable to last year's TouchID fingerprint hack
But unsophisticated thieves need not attempt this trick
How the FLAC do I tell MP3s from lossless audio?
Can you hear the difference? Can anyone?
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.
The next step in data security
With recent increased privacy concerns and computers becoming more powerful, the chance of hackers being able to crack smaller-sized RSA keys increases.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.
A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.