An intro to all things ARM

Processors designed by the folks at ARM have been around for ages, but they’ve mostly inhabited computing devices you probably didn’t particularly like: sluggish GPS units, slow-as-molasses in-flight entertainment systems, digital picture frames, and the like. For a time, these devices were relatively cheap and becoming more common thanks to the magic of Moore’s Law, but they didn’t have much else to recommend them.

Then, of course, the iPhone happened, and everything changed seemingly overnight.

With the rise of smartphones and tablets, the arc of consumer computing has been radically altered. Now, ARM processors power some of the computers many of us like the most: ridiculously powerful smartphones, tablets whose stunning displays are wildly superior to the average PC’s, and e-readers so well-suited for their roles that they’re capable of inspiring poetry.

ARM’s fortunes have risen, too—as have the firm’s ambitions. ARM-based chips dominate the mobile device market, despite repeated attempts by traditional PC players like Intel to make inroads there. Meanwhile, the market for consumer PCs has grown soft, its prospects dimmed by competition from tablets. With the erosion of AMD’s prominence in the traditional PC space, a new contest is shaping up that may determine the course of computing for the next decade or more, pitting the ARM ecosystem versus Intel, the world’s biggest chipmaker.

You know Andy Grove’s famous declaration that only the paranoid survive? Well, the current source of Intel’s paranoia is undoubtedly ARM and its partners. Intel has acted on its fear by steering its product offerings directly toward the places where ARM is strongest. The recently introduced Haswell processors can squeeze into power envelopes as small as six watts—and those are the big chips. Intel revealed the more direct threat to ARM in the form of its upcoming Silvermont microarchitecture a couple of months ago. Not only does Silvermont promise to improve the aging Atom CPU core with something much more potent, but it also comes with a renewed commitment. Intel is bringing its vaunted “tick-tock” development rhythm to the Atom, interleaving the introduction of new chip fabrication technologies and revised microarchitectures in a series of annual updates.

That’s the formula that left AMD in the dust, and it’s no doubt formidable. In ARM, though, Intel faces a very different sort of competition. Indeed, I get the sense folks at ARM were a little bit peeved by some of the claims Intel made about Silvermont’s competitive stature. That may be one reason why ARM summoned some of the world’s most technically inclined journalists and analysts to a confab at its headquarters in Cambridge, England recently. In an obvious case of poor judgment, I was also allowed to attend.

This is Cambridge, England. ARM’s offices do not look like this.

Happily, I now get the chance to tell you another side of the story of the next generation of low-power processors, one that began with Intel’s Silvermont and AMD’s Kabini and extends to a host of different chips based on ARM’s instruction set architecture and CPU microarchitectures. There’s no doubt now that a new front has opened in the CPU market.

How anyone can build an ARM-based chip

The most important technology ARM has brought to the looming fight against Intel may not be a CPU architecture or a feature set. Instead, ARM’s biggest advantage may be the legal and technical framework it has established that allows a host of different companies to build ARM-compatible chips with relative ease.

ARM doesn’t make any chips itself. Instead, it designs components of chips, like CPU cores, and licenses this intellectual property (IP) to semiconductor companies for incorporation into all sorts of different products. Those products are usually SoCs, or systems on a chip, with relatively modest power budgets and an entire computer’s worth of components integrated together.

Ian Thornton, ARM’s VP of Communications and Investor Relations, describes ARM’s role as an R&D outsourcing operation. ARM concentrates on developing new CPU microarchitectures, while its clients like Samsung and Nvidia focus on everything else that goes into building a complete SoC. By contrast, Intel’s x86 instruction set architecture, on which the Windows PC ecosystem relies, is closely guarded. Although anyone can write x86-compatible software, only Intel itself and a handful of companies with some historical patent leverage, like AMD and Via, can produce x86-compatible processor silicon.

Thornton offered us a sketch of how ARM’s licensing model works. At its core, the approach is fairly simple. Customers who wish to incorporate ARM’s technology into a chip pay for the privilege in two ways: an upfront licensing fee and a per-chip royalty. The fee and royalty can vary depending on the type of customer and the sort of technology being licensed, but that’s the basic structure.

According to Thornton, the license fee typically ranges from $1-10 million dollars. This payment is made at the outset of a licensing deal, and it gets the customer access to ARM’s technology and to support from ARM personnel, so the process of developing a product can begin. Semiconductor development projects usually take three to four years to complete. The license fee may be the only revenue ARM realizes for a while.

Once a product containing ARM IP begins shipping, then the licensee must pay a royalty to ARM, which is typically 1-2% of the selling price of each chip. The royalty is intended to be small enough to allow ARM’s customers to realize a profit on their creations, but one can imagine how two percent of the price of every chip going into nearly every smartphone in the market might add up over time.

Thus, ARM benefits when its customers succeed, and it realizes higher profits when its IP is licensed widely across multiple products that ship in high volumes. That means ARM’s incentives ought to map well to its customers’ needs, which are dictated by the economics of the semiconductor industry, where producing large volumes of chips is the surest path to success.

An unnecessarily complex diagram of ARM’s licensing scheme. Source: ARM.

Within this simple fee-plus-royalty structure, ARM offers a range of options tailored toward different sorts of customers. Corporate customers can license a specific bit of IP to be used in a single product, or they can choose to subscribe to ARM’s entire library for use across an array of products. ARM also offers heavily discounted options for start-ups and academics.

What ARM then hands over to a customer will depend on that company’s needs and capabilities. The usual procedure is for ARM to hand off a description of, say, a CPU core in register transfer level (RTL) format. The semiconductor firm then takes the RTL and feeds it into logic synthesis software in order to create a gate-level description of the hardware. Those results are then converted into a physical level circuit design using placement and routing tools. Most semiconductor companies don’t have their own manufacturing capability, so they’ll work with a foundry like TSMC or GlobalFoundries to produce the chips, adapting the physical design to match the requirements of the foundry’s manufacturing process.

I believe that’s the exact path that, say, Nvidia’s Tegra SoCs have taken to market. The Tegra 4 incorporates five copies of ARM’s Cortex-A15 CPU microarchitecture and is manufactured at TSMC on a 28-nm fabrication process. Contrast that to something like Haswell, which went from architecture to design to final silicon to integrated platform entirely inside of Intel.

For firms that prefer not to handle the physical design themselves, ARM offers pre-baked physical designs known as processor optimization packs (POPs) in cooperation with the major foundries. These are optimized implementations of popular ARM cores geared toward a specific fabrication process, and they are sold by the foundries to semiconductor firms. ARM receives a royalty of between 1-2.5% of the wafer price from the foundry for the use of its POPs.

More intriguing is a third option, known as an architecture license. This type of license allows a third-party firm to design its own processor core that is compatible with ARM’s instruction set architecture, or ISA. This setup is akin to the agreement that Intel has with AMD, allowing AMD to make x86-compatible CPUs. The difference is that ARM offers ISA licenses openly, and they have become relatively popular in recent years. Some of the most prominent CPU cores shipping in today’s phone and tablets are the fruit of ISA licenses, including Qualcomm’s Krait and Apple’s Swift. With this option on the table, CPU performance in ARM’s key markets can advance even when ARM itself isn’t as quick as it should be in producing a new CPU architecture. In fact, that’s arguably just what happened in the latest generation of smartphones.

Of course, PC processor performance also advanced via a licensee when Intel stumbled with the Pentium 4, but that didn’t turn out so well. In this case, ARM collects a similar royalty from architecture licensees as from its other customers, so the success of Krait and Swift doesn’t sap its revenues.

Success in complexity

Royalties and fees do vary depending on several factors. Newer and more complex IP—like, say, the Cortex-A15 CPU core used in high-end Android devices—tends to command a bit of a premium, although ARM has built in a number of provisions to ease the pain. Multiple copies of the same core on a chip usually don’t cost any more, for instance. Discounts are applied to the royalties on chips that mix two different core types, so that the total royalty remains fairly modest. Some enabling IP, like ARM’s AMBA interconnect and its memory controllers, are included as part of the package for no additional cost. I understand ARM has also been quite aggressive in discounting its Mali graphics IP for its CPU licensees in order to spur wider adoption.

Also not ARM’s offices.

That’s all quite complicated, but the thing to know about ARM’s licensing model is that it works. In fact, licensed IP is arguably the lifeblood of today’s semiconductor industry outside of a few traditional PC players. ARM’s AMBA interconnect and its CPU cores are de facto standards in the world of SoCs, but a number of other players compete with ARM pretty directly. For instance, the graphics IP in all of Apple’s iOS devices is supplied by Imagination Technologies, who abandoned the desktop PC market after the Kyro II. The success of this model has even prompted Nvidia to open up its current and future GPU portfolio for licensing by third-party device makers.

Thornton offered some numbers to illustrate the extent of ARM’s, er, reach. (Yes, I did that.) Currently, the firm has roughly 1000 processor licenses active—that is, those licenses still have the potential to generate a royalty. A total of 320 companies are partnered with ARM via license agreements, and about half of those are currently shipping ARM-based chips. Each year, the firm adds 30 to 40 new licensees, and Thornton estimates that about 80% of those end up building a chip successfully. (The other 20% are start-ups that wind up being acquired.) All told, ARM’s partners presently ship about 2.5 billion chips every quarter, and ARM estimates that its IP has shipped in a cumulative total of 45 billion chips over the years. Those are, obviously, some very big numbers. We’re only three orders of magnitude shy of the scale of government debt.

So, this is… different

The fact that ARM (along with other IP houses) doesn’t produce its own chips presents some difficulties for those of us well attuned to the traditional PC market. We’re generally accustomed to a certain level of openness about things like future CPU roadmaps, die sizes and, transistor counts. ARM shared quite a bit with those of us who attended its recent event for the tech press, including juicy details of its current architectures that we’ll be writing about in future articles. But the nature of the information ARM will disclose is limited by its business model, oftentimes because the answers to common questions depend on how and when ARM’s partners choose to implement its technology.

For instance, ARM’s engineers presented some compelling arguments about the merits of its big.LITTLE power-management scheme, which uses dual CPU architectures and intelligent thread scheduling to boost power efficiency. Trouble is, there isn’t yet a really strong implementation of big.LITTLE in the wild, and ARM doesn’t feel at liberty to disclose what it knows of its partners’ plans. As a result, it’s hard to gauge big.LITTLE’s prospects for widespread adoption. By contrast, we know definitively that Intel’s Bay Trail platform based on the Silvermont microarchitecture is slated for release later this year, and we can reasonably expect Silvermont’s power-saving features be implemented uniformly at that time.

This one difference between ARM and Intel isn’t a big deal in itself, but it illustrates a larger reality that permeates any discussion of ARM-based solutions. Because it’s an upstream provider of technologies, ARM’s control over how its creations are implemented is limited. That fact can be a strength, given the sheer diversity of its partners’ products and how those products are tailored to specific applications. But it can also be a detriment, for example when ARM’s partners choose to pursue higher core counts and clock speeds at the expense of architectural efficiency.

I expect this drawback will be something of a persistent challenge for ARM. On the PC, Intel addressed this problem years ago by delivering near-complete platforms to PC makers, as it did with Centrino and continues to do with ultrabooks. ARM has less leverage, so it must count on its licensees to do the right thing.

Then again, have you tried to find an ultrabook with a decent touchpad? Even Intel’s clout doesn’t solve every problem.

ARM tackles this challenge in part by offering a “lead licensing” program when it’s ready to bring, say, a new CPU core to market in an SoC for the first time. The firm will choose several partners and work closely with them on the first few implementations of its new microarchitecture. These partners generally must serve different markets, and they must be able to dedicate substantial engineering resources to the project. Their reward, of course, is being one of the first to offer a new core, which seems like a pretty good incentive. This program helps ARM pass the hurdle of getting a new core etched into silicon, at least.

The issues created by the separation of ARM’s R&D efforts from it partners’ specific implementations come into sharper focus when the time comes to make performance assessments. Claims made about a microarchitecture’s instruction throughput only mean so much without a chip to test. Also, the inherent complexity of the ARM ecosystem can make it difficult to eyeball a chip and estimate its performance.

For example, ARM reckons the performance of the ultra-popular Cortex-A9 CPU core more than tripled during its lifetime. Changes in the process technology and power envelopes used by ARM partners contributed some of those gains, but so did four separate revisions made to the Cortex-A9’s RTL. We’re talking fundamental architectural tuning here, such as tweaks to the branch prediction and cache pre-fetching algorithms. Similarly, the Cortex-A15 is already on its third rev. And we haven’t even talked about the many possibilities for varying cache and uncore configurations in ARM-based SoCs. Knowing that your tablet has a Cortex-A9 at 800MHz inside of it doesn’t provide much of a basis for comparison.

So, as the contest between Intel and ARM heats up and the performance claims are inevitably bandied about, we have much to consider. I expect we’ll hear some hare-brained marketing claims from all sides of this contest.  As always, the ultimate verification will come from high-quality benchmarking that relies on real applications and takes the user’s perceived experience into account. That we can do.

ARM presented us with a formidable amount of detailed info about its CPU and graphics cores, so we have lots more to say about these things. For now, though, I think we have a start on understanding how ARM’s business works and why it’s such a threat to the traditional dominance of x86 processors in high-end computing devices. That should be enough to chew on, since it pretty much changes everything.

Comments closed
    • SylviaHouston7
    • 8 years ago
    • CathyRolphe5
    • 8 years ago
    • KristinSmith9
    • 8 years ago
    • jennychapell17
    • 8 years ago
    • moog
    • 8 years ago

    This intro is not only decades late, it’s going to be pointless starting with Silvermont.

    • thermistor
    • 8 years ago

    Intel’s slogan for a while – possibly even now – is “X86 Everywhere.”

    If they are successful, they make a killing. If they’re not, they still hold dominance in huge, though shrinking, markets.

    • takeship
    • 8 years ago

    Just wanted to say that, regardless of where anyone sits on the ARM/Intel fence, this article is awesome, and one of the reasons TechReport is on my shortlist of sites to read. Keep it up!

    • kamikaziechameleon
    • 8 years ago

    Many of the issues discussed don’t seem tied to the business model but rather ARM’s implementation.

    • Srsly_Bro
    • 8 years ago

    Where is the final photo with ARM’s actual office??????? There are too many words to follow, but pictures I can do.

      • chuckula
      • 8 years ago

      I’ve heard it’s a blue Police Box. It’s not very interesting on the outside, but it’s bigger on the inside.

    • confusedpenguin
    • 8 years ago

    The British are coming! The British are coming!

    • chuckula
    • 8 years ago

    It’s a story of love… AND SPAM! When gamerguy23099 met LucileBentz03.. coming soon to a blacklist near you!

    • LucileBentz03
    • 8 years ago
    • gamerguy23099
    • 8 years ago
    • chuckula
    • 8 years ago

    Thanks for the article guys. Is this just the first article in a series or is that all you got from ARM? I’m asking because I’d be much more interested in learning about their next generation chip design plans than hearing about their licensing schemes.

    • aces170
    • 8 years ago

    Lovely article, this is why I like TR so much. I have been reading on the ARM business model at a couple of other sites, but Scott put its across in an easy to understand way. I wish you guys would dedicate more time to the smartphone space, that is where all the technology innovations/developments are taking place now.

    • asdzxc57
    • 8 years ago

    Thanks for covering ARM. 45 billion units are hard to ignore.

    Looks like you had a nice time in Cambridge too.

    • beck2448
    • 8 years ago

    I love competition. Whatever one says about Intel, it is obvious in this area for mobile CPUs they have made real progress. This will be a death match for both companies, and ARM and Intel will have to produce better and better products while the consumer benefits.

      • HisDivineOrder
      • 8 years ago

      I love competition. This gives AMD an opportunity to catch up in performance to Intel. Currently, Intel is cutting their nose off to spite their face. They have such a huge performance lead they’re just treading water on performance to get their performance per watt and total system power numbers down.

      This is AMD’s moment to strike in the performance area. If they could just get Steamroller out and it not be a disappointment at high enough speeds, they could flank Intel on performance per dollar, awakening the old Athlon vs Pentium days of old. Bring back that legacy and many, many enthusiasts would switch just to show Intel why beating ARM shouldn’t be their only priority in the world.

      Intel and MS have the same problem, really. They both look at these new devices (tablets and smartphones) with their new sales models and they think, “That money could be ours if we just do this one thing differently.” When in fact the reason those devices sell better is a variety of things, not just “performance per watt and power” (in Intel’s case). It’s also because they’re cheap enough that a great CPU+GPU hybrid AND display can be slapped into the same tablet for $200. MS’s version of this is they think if they can just offer an OS with touch, the people will come, but they fail to understand that people are buying tablets as supplements to a computer they own and they want that computer’s OS to be tailored to standard computer controls. And they want everything (the OS, the applications, everything) to be both plentiful and cheap. Neither of which describes MS’s app store.

      Intel and MS have an incredibly narrow view of what’s wrong with their offerings and seem to miss the fact their licensing/pricing scheme is way, way out of touch with the reality of why tablets and smartphones based on ARM and Android are smacking down on anything Windows or anything Intel in the space.

      I think Intel needs to take stock of what it wants. Does it want to have high performance or high tablet sales? I think if it wants high performance (even per watt) then it has to be content that it’s second fiddle, even no fiddle, in the larger tablet space since the larger tablet space is going to be cheaper than the $200 promised pricing of Bay Trail netbooks (and that’s to say nothing of where tablets which usually price higher will land). Every time Intel puts out a cheaper Atom/Pentium/whatever, ARM will be there with lower pricing. One of its partners will. It doesn’t take much to make a “good enough processor” for email, web browsing, youtube, Angry Birds, and Plants vs Zombies.

      I think right now Intel is as caught between two worlds–trying to be the best at two somewhat opposing things while understanding neither world very well–as MS is.

      Either Intel needs to focus more on performance (and boost Haswell’s performance) or they need to get their pricing down across the board and move to a quantity vs quality routine.

      I suspect sadly they’ll wind up in the quantity space soon, which would almost certainly be a death knell to the enthusiast space… unless they change up the E-line or AMD shakes off the Bulldozer blues they’ve had for years now.

        • NeelyCam
        • 8 years ago

        I respectfully disagree about Intel needing to improve performance of high-end chips. People say “PC is dead”, but what I think is really happening is that Desktop PC is dead. Laptops are still selling, and for laptops battery life is very very important – more important than performance. Intel did the exact right thing with Haswell: keep the performance largely unchanged, but massively improve efficiency/battery life.

        I don’t really understand why people are saying Haswell is disappointing – I think it’s hugely impressive. I guess those folks are desktop users..

    • ronch
    • 8 years ago

    I have sailed the world, beheld its wonders.
    From the Dardanelles to the mountains of Peru.
    But there’s no place like London!

    No there’s no place like London!

      • Anomymous Gerbil
      • 8 years ago

      Cambridge isn’t London!

        • NeelyCam
        • 8 years ago

        That’s somewhat unrelated

    • Meadows
    • 8 years ago

    [quote<]"abandoned the desktop PC market after the Kyro II."[/quote<] I love how Scott's old review says "such a large fan might be overkill".

      • Damage
      • 8 years ago

      Still no fan in the iPad 4. 😉

        • Meadows
        • 8 years ago

        But does it sport hardware T&L?

    • ronch
    • 8 years ago

    This reminds me of the time when there were still a ton of x86 CPU clones from every chip company out there, from Fujitsu to Toshiba, NEC, Ricoh, Harris etc. The difference was that although Intel was far less greedy in those days they weren’t happy about everyone copying their chips either. I hope the scenario today with ARM holds out even when they’ve become even more popular. There’s always the possibility that they’re being open and friendly these days so that they can grow big enough and become a big bully when the right time comes. They’d better not make that mistake though, because the industry is alive and there’s always another ISA out there that’s always ready to nip at their toes and start chewing away.

    • Bensam123
    • 8 years ago

    So what’s stopping ARM licensees from developing their own revision of a ARM processor that is different enough that it isn’t considered one so they don’t have to pay licensing fees to ARM?

      • willmore
      • 8 years ago

      Probably that there is so much that they’d have to change–including creating their own software ecosystem–that there’s little motivation to do such a thing.

        • ALiLPinkMonster
        • 8 years ago

        This. One does not simply create an ISA.

          • Bensam123
          • 8 years ago

          I wasn’t specifically referring to ISA as much as ARM and processors derived from it.

            • willmore
            • 8 years ago

            Well, to escape the licensing, you have to change the ISA to be clearly not a derived work of ARM. You couldn’t use AMBA, AHB, any of the standard peripherials, etc. Once you’ve done that, you need to write a compiler, change the OS, and rewirte all of the kernel device drivers. That’s a lot of up front work to get out of a pretty small licensing fee.

            • Bensam123
            • 8 years ago

            I thought everything uses ISA… Including Intel and AMD chips…

            • willmore
            • 8 years ago

            You’re either being coy or you aren’t aware that ISA means Instruction Set Architecture. That’s the bit of a chip design that describes what the instructions look like and what they do–everything else is an implementation detail. If you build a chip that can run x86 code, we would say that it is x86 ISA compliant.

            The ISA bus on the other hand is a completely different thing and I hope *noone* is still using that.

      • ronch
      • 8 years ago

      Time to market, more R&D resources, among other things. And even with their own in-house-developed core they’d still need to pay royalties, as the article has stated. Also, the risks are higher, so whoever designs their own core will have to make sure they know what to do with it.

        • Bensam123
        • 8 years ago

        Of course… There is the whole idea of spending money on R&D, but the whole idea of doing that is to get away from a license leash in which you may be forced to pay more then those R&D costs over the years. Comparing a loan to straight out paying something back, that’s always a issue.

        I’m just questioning what’s stopping big companies with cash to spend on R&D, like Samsung/Intel (and even AMD who is partnered with them), from taking the good parts of their tech and improving their own with it in enough of a way where they wouldn’t need to pay royalties.

        For instance if AMD made improvements to it’s x86 lineup with ARM optimizations (which I’m pretty sure is what AMD is doing anyway)…

      • Flatland_Spider
      • 8 years ago

      Copyright and patent law.

      They’d have to reverse engineer everything, and at this point in the game, it’s not worth the hassle. There are so many architectures out there that they could just pick one and expand on it.

      Then there is the concept of outsourcing parts of the business that are not core competencies. Computer architecture design is typically not something businesses specialize in unless that’s what they want to do.

    • grantmeaname
    • 8 years ago

    Terrific article!

    • omf
    • 8 years ago

    Just wanted to say that I enjoyed the article. I was very well written.

      • NeelyCam
      • 8 years ago

      It’s funny how much we all truly appreciate good grammar and structure, after reading all the crap on the other tech sites that lack editors (*cough*S|A*cough*)

        • ronch
        • 8 years ago

        Don’t forget Xbit Labs. Being run by a bunch of Russians aboard a Soyuz craft in orbit though, I’m quite willing to forgive their grammar.

          • LukeCWM
          • 8 years ago

          And Tom’s Hardware, with blatant typos in the headings of articles. =]

            • ronch
            • 8 years ago

            But nothing compared to RedOrbit… which has misleading headlines intended to just make people click on it. Hence, RedOrbit = Click Bait, nothing more.

    • Kurlon
    • 8 years ago

    You can get an early feel for ballpark ARM ISA performance via their Versatile Express platform. They provide (at hefty expense) the dev platform with FPGA implementations of new cores as they design them. Low clock speed, but the idea is the FPGA core acts instruction perfect compared to the RTL they’re offering. Even before that they offer software emulators.

    • jdaven
    • 8 years ago

    So to summarize:

    ARM: Open licensing, makes more money when its customers make better and better products from its designs

    Intel: Closed/limited licensing, sues licensees or threaten to take away their license if they make better and better products

    I really pity AMD, VIA, Cyrix, Transmeta, etc. over the years for having to put up with Intel.

      • stmok
      • 8 years ago

      [quote<]I really pity AMD, VIA, Cyrix, Transmeta, etc. over the years for having to put up with Intel.[/quote<] Why? They knew what they were signing up for. No one held a gun to their heads. AMD is still hanging on; slowly getting their financial issues sorted out. Now they just need Steamroller-based products to close the performance gap. (Whether they actually achieve that is another story.) ...They have done well thus far, scoring both Sony and Microsoft game console contracts with their Kabini-based APU. VIA is progressing so slowly that it looks stagnant on the x86 side, while their ARM side is thriving in Asian markets. (The problem with VIA is that they aim for mediocrity. ie: "Just enough" computing...And their after-sales support is poor. Their biggest issue is that they don't have sufficient financial and technical resources because they don't strive/push and evolve aggressively. They have some engineering talent. They just don't have the necessary resources to implement a solution competitively, at a good pace compared to Intel or AMD.) ...These guys came up with the Mini-ITX standard. They overcharged because they were the only game in town. That is until Intel and AMD started embracing the format themselves! The rest of the x86 market are dead or too small to be noticed. (I recall one company that still makes 486-class processors for a very niche embedded market.) On the other side of the fence... ARM is thriving in Asia. They've got companies in China signing up with them. Mainly licensing their reference designs and making them under their own confusing model names. (In the last few years, Chinese tech companies have learned not to violate other people's Intellectual Property; if they wish to sell their consumer products to Western countries...Although, their military espionage side is a different story!)

        • ronch
        • 8 years ago

        The point is that x86 was, for the longest time, the only real, relevant, decently popular ISA and Intel wanted to keep the sandbox for themselves and bully anyone who wanted to play in their sandbox as well. I don’t pity the likes of Cyrix for wanting to play in Intel’s sandbox (heck, that’s their decision) but once they do it’s pitiful how Intel will treat them given the size difference between Intel and the likes of Cyrix, AMD, Nexgen, Transmeta, IDT, VIA, and Rise, which are the most recent players to suffer Intel’s wrath. I’m not saying these small players don’t deserve what they got from doing x86, what I don’t like is how Intel wants everything for themselves, which stifles the industry’s growth as a whole. And with that kind of scenario the industry will naturally find a way to create their own sandbox. To top it off it’s funny how Intel isn’t being locked out of the ARM sandbox by ARM Holdings itself, but rather, it’s the size of Intel’s sandbox and Intel themselves that’s preventing Intel from joining the ARM sandbox and thereby putting their x86 dominance at risk by supporting the ARM ecosystem.

          • ermo
          • 8 years ago

          [quote<] To top it off it's funny how Intel isn't being locked out of the ARM sandbox by ARM Holdings itself, but rather, it's the size of Intel's sandbox and Intel themselves that's preventing Intel from joining the ARM sandbox and thereby putting their x86 dominance at risk by supporting the ARM ecosystem. [/quote<] Let's not forget the StrongARM IP that Intel bought when DEC was closed down and broken up. I suppose Intel must have decided at some point that they wanted to own the entire market, top-to-bottom, with x86 Atom at the low end, x86 core at the workstation level and IA-64 at the very highest end. That didn't happen. Instead, ARM has now gained a stronghold and has the low end pretty much covered, and the high-ish end is dominated by AMD's backwards-compatible AMD64 arch in the form of Intel's own AMD64-compatble EMT64 implementation. The fact that it was AMD who developed the clever backward-compatible extensions must give AMD at least some leverage in the licensing stakes? Oh, and nobody is talking about the [s<]Itanic[/s<] Itanium, except people paid ridiculous sums to do so in court. One can certainly appreciate the irony of the situation.

            • ronch
            • 8 years ago

            Intel is an ARM licensee. Heck, they can put their weight behind ARM if they want to. They know most, if not all, of the tricks in the book. They can design an ARM CPU that is microarchitecturally the same as Ivy Bridge or Haswell but with modifications to allow it to execute ARM instructions.

            But they won’t and never will do that. They have too much invested in x86 to do that.

      • chuckula
      • 8 years ago

      I’d take a “closed” x86 platform with easy industry-standard expansion and the ability to install any OS I want over an “open” ARM smartphone with a locked bootloader and a proprietary hardware configuration any day of the week.

        • peartart
        • 8 years ago

        yeah, ARM’s ‘customers’ are hardware companies. Intel’s customers are much more diverse.

      • strange_brew
      • 8 years ago

      To rephrase:

      ARM: Makes money only by licensing IP (this is their entire business model)

      Intel: Loses money by being forced to license IP (this is specifically NOT their business model)

      Intel and ARM are NOT competitors. Intel competes with all of ARM’s customers combined with all of the foundries used to make those products. I doubt Intel would like to trade their $2-3B / quarter in profit for ARM’s $1B / year in revenue.

        • NeelyCam
        • 8 years ago

        [quote<]Intel and ARM are NOT competitors.[/quote<] Intel and ARM are indirect competitors at the ecosystem and architecture levels, from the point of view that if one gains marketshare/revenue on a market, the other one loses some. For a long time ARM was trying to market the idea that ARM is inherently more efficient than x86 - that's competing with Intel (and, to lesser extent, with AMD). Now, the ARM vs. Intel battle is going on at the ecosystem level; both are trying to expand their reach to new markets while trying to hold onto the old markets, largely by growing/maintaining/protecting their ecosystems

      • HisDivineOrder
      • 8 years ago

      At this point, I pity AMD, VIA, Cyrix, Transmeta, etc. Period. Intel, no Intel, I just pity them.

      VIA, Cyrix, and Transmeta are just tales of woe. AMD’s not much better currently.

    • Captain Ned
    • 8 years ago

    Hmm, I can already frame the topic of next month’s beach firepit discussion.

    • albundy
    • 8 years ago

    ” In an obvious case of poor judgment, I was also allowed to attend.”

    Welcome to the club. It’s the ONLY way I can attend anything these days! How did you enjoy England? It’s pretty expensive with USD bills, aint it? Just make sure you leave with what you came with…spectacles, testicles, wallet, and watch.

      • NeelyCam
      • 8 years ago

      People still use watches..?

        • Captain Ned
        • 8 years ago

        Yes, and I’m quite sussed that mine (generic Citizen EcoDrive) is accurate enough for naval navigation.

          • ronch
          • 8 years ago

          I highly regard the Citizen EcoDrive product line. I think it’s the way watches should be. I’m too cheap to buy a watch winder so I need to wind my automatics or they end up dead. I just hope the eventual battery replacement on an EcoDrive isn’t more expensive than all the battery replacements one spends for over the years on a typical, non-EcoDrive watch.

        • Wildchild
        • 8 years ago

        I believe they call watches in England “little Bens.”

        • spuppy
        • 8 years ago

        People stopped using watches…?

          • NeelyCam
          • 8 years ago

          I haven’t had a watch for, what, 10 years now? It seems pointless when you’re carrying a cell phone, and have dozens of clocks everywhere around you

            • MadManOriginal
            • 8 years ago

            You’ll be wearing a smart watch soon enough 😉

            • NeelyCam
            • 8 years ago

            Unless it’s a fully functional phone (you know, without requiring me to carry a phone in my pocket) and a GPS, I seriously doubt it

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