Feeds

ARM creators Sophie Wilson and Steve Furber

Part Two: the accidental chip

Build a business case: developing custom apps

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. ®

Build a business case: developing custom apps

More from The Register

next story
Kate Bush: Don't make me HAVE CONTACT with your iPHONE
Can't face sea of wobbling fondle implements. What happened to lighters, eh?
The agony and ecstasy of SteamOS: WHERE ARE MY GAMES?
And yes it does need a fat HDD (or SSD, it's cool with either)
Apple takes blade to 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display
Shaves price, not screen on mid-2014 model
iPhone 6 flip tip slips in Aussie's clip: Apple's 'reversible USB' leaks
New plug not compatible with official Type-C, according to fresh rumors
Steve Jobs had BETTER BALLS than Atari, says Apple mouse designer
Xerox? Pff, not even in the same league as His Jobsiness
TV transport tech, part 1: From server to sofa at the touch of a button
You won't believe how much goes into today's telly tech
Apple analyst: fruity firm set to shift 75 million iPhones
We'll have some of whatever he's having please
Apple to build WORLD'S BIGGEST iStore in Dubai
It's not the size of your shiny-shiny...
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Top 10 endpoint backup mistakes
Avoid the ten endpoint backup mistakes to ensure that your critical corporate data is protected and end user productivity is improved.
Top 8 considerations to enable and simplify mobility
In this whitepaper learn how to successfully add mobile capabilities simply and cost effectively.
Rethinking backup and recovery in the modern data center
Combining intelligence, operational analytics, and automation to enable efficient, data-driven IT organizations using the HP ABR approach.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.