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10 billion ARM processors, and counting

Jan 26, 2008 — by Rick Lehrbaum — 12 views

While the x86 architecture reigns supreme in the PC market, a range of other CPU architectures are generally preferred in embedded devices due to cost, space, and power constraints. One of these — the ARM architecture — has now shipped in more than 10 billion devices.

“ARM Partners have now shipped more than one processor for every single person on the planet,” boasts Warren East, CEO of ARM Ltd., which develops and licenses ARM architecture-based processor core intellectual property (IP) to numerous semiconductor manufacturers.

Some of ARM’s instruction set architectures (ISAs)

ARM Ltd. created its first embeddable RISC core (the ARM6) in 1991 and subsequently developed numerous successor architectures, including the ARM7, ARM9, ARM10, ARM11, Cortex, and others. Licensees of these cores currently ship nearly three billion ARM-based processors per year, the company says. Additionally, the ARM architecture has formed the basis of Intel’s XScale processor family.

ARM, of course, is not the only popular embedded processor architecture. Alternatives include PowerPC, MIPS, and 68K/Coldfire, among others.

ARM, however, claims to be the world’s largest microprocessor IP-licensing company. Its processors are found in a highly diverse range of consumer devices. Some examples, as listed by the company, include:

  • LG’s Viewty, Nokia’s N95, and Sony Ericsson’s P1i smartphones
  • Apple’s iPhone and iPod
  • Garmin’s, Navman’s, and Tom Tom’s portable GPSes
  • Kodak still cameras and Sony video cameras
  • Nintendo’s DS handheld gaming device
  • Toshiba’s HD digital televisions
  • Samsung and Seagate hard drives
  • Bosch automotive braking systems
  • HP printers
  • Linksys and Netgear wireless routers

According to Jordan Selburn, principal analyst for iSuppli’s Semiconductor Design Services, “Billions of ASSPs and ASICs built around RISC processor cores are shipping each year and we forecast that this number will continue to grow, approaching 5 billion per year by 2011.”

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