Feeds

ARM creators Sophie Wilson and Steve Furber

Part Two: the accidental chip

SANS - Survey on application security programs

Archimedes principle

The ARM DS was followed, in 1987, by the first complete ARM-based computer, the Acorn Archimedes, costing a hair under £900. The various Archimedes machines that followed were among the most powerful home computers available, and by the time the last one arrived, in 1992, the processor had evolved to include a crucially important new feature. It was this that would prepare the chip for its triumphant role as the dominant mobile powerhouse.

The ARM had become a system-on-a-chip (SoC).

Archimedes flyer

The key was the relatively small real estate on the die required by the processor proper, leaving plenty of room on the surrounding silicon for whatever else might take the designer’s fancy.

Says Furber: “You could just think about the four chips you needed to build the Archimedes system, and putting them onto one chip.”

A large, ailing computer company across the Atlantic had seen the potential for this early on in the game. In 1986, Apple began using ARM processors for backroom prototypes of what was to become the first ever tablet computer, the Newton. Five years later, Apple ploughed a reported $1.5m into the newly-founded ARM company, taking a 43 per cent share of the joint ownership along with Acorn and the processor fabricator VLSI.

The Newton, launched in 1993, was a flop. But by the turn of the millennium, Steve Jobs was back in the saddle and Apple’s investment in ARM went on to pay huge dividends as the Cupertino company branched out into portable devices like the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad.

Acorn Computers, meanwhile, had unravelled. An escape vessel from the wreck was a company focusing on Digital Signal Processor (DSP) design called Element 14. Sophie Wilson was a key crew member, and when Element 14 was bought by Broadcom in 2000, Wilson went with it, to become, as she is today, chief architect of Broadcom’s DSL business.

Apple's Newton MessagePad 100. Source: Wikimedia

ARM-powered but not Apple's saviour: the MessagePad 100
Source: Wikimedia

Herman Hauser was once asked why a great British success story like Acorn finally failed. He queried the last word: “There are over 100 companies in the Cambridge area that can trace their beginnings back to Acorn, and have been founded by Acorn alumni. ARM has now sold over ten billion processors, ten times more than Intel.”

Since 2008 when Hauser made that statement, ARM-based processors not only monopolise our smartphones, but also appear in 90 per cent of our hard drives, 80 per cent of our digital cameras, and have also found their way into printers and digital TVs. They are currently selling at a rate of over five billion per year. ®

SANS - Survey on application security programs

More from The Register

next story
Samsung Galaxy S5 fingerprint scanner hacked in just 4 DAYS
Sammy's newbie cooked slower than iPhone, also costs more to build
Leaked pics show EMBIGGENED iPhone 6 screen
Fat-fingered fanbois rejoice over Chinternet snaps
Oh no, Joe: WinPhone users already griping over 8.1 mega-update
Hang on. Which bit of Developer Preview don't you understand?
Microsoft lobs pre-release Windows Phone 8.1 at devs who dare
App makers can load it before anyone else, but if they do they're stuck with it
Rounded corners? Pah! Amazon's '3D phone has eye-tracking tech'
Now THAT'S what we call a proper new feature
Leaked photos may indicate slimmer next-generation iPad
Will iPad Air evolve into iPad Helium?
Feast your PUNY eyes on highest resolution phone display EVER
Too much pixel dust for your strained eyeballs to handle
Zucker punched: Google gobbles Facebook-wooed Titan Aerospace
Up, up and away in my beautiful balloon flying broadband-bot
US mobile firms cave on kill switch, agree to install anti-theft code
Slow and kludgy rollout will protect corporate profits
prev story

Whitepapers

Securing web applications made simple and scalable
In this whitepaper learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.
3 Big data security analytics techniques
Applying these Big Data security analytics techniques can help you make your business safer by detecting attacks early, before significant damage is done.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Top three mobile application threats
Learn about three of the top mobile application security threats facing businesses today and recommendations on how to mitigate the risk.
Combat fraud and increase customer satisfaction
Based on their experience using HP ArcSight Enterprise Security Manager for IT security operations, Finansbank moved to HP ArcSight ESM for fraud management.