Much to the chagrin of the largest high-tech companies whose products have served as the foundation for computing for the past 30 years, the microprocessor is breaking free of the chains that bind it: overweight operating systems, the need for heavyweight batteries, and the requirement for lots of room with a built-in fan or two to keep devices cool enough to operate.
ARM is a microprocessor manufacturer that is taking advantage of advancing technology's steady destruction of those chains forged by the likes of AMD, Intel, and Microsoft.
Here're a few facts:
- ARM is the processor used in both the Apple iPhone and Amazon's Kindle.
- ARM shipped its 10 billionth processor this year and in 2008 alone shipped 2.5 billion processors.
- ARM chips are in about 98 percent of all cell phones out today.
There are a number of reasons why Apple and Amazon and just about every cell phone manufacturer on earth uses ARM technology.
If you compare the ARM Cortex-A8 to Intel's Centrino Atom, you may be startled to learn that the ARM is about 75 percent smaller than the Atom, 144 square millimeters versus 666 square millimenters, respectively, and yet both processors run at 1GHz. While the Atom is a two-chip solution, ARM is a single-chip solution, requiring less room and less power.
Another major difference between Intel and ARM comes from ARM's business model. While Intel believes in designing all parts of processor technology, ARM licenses its technology to other chip manufacturers such as graphics giant Nvidia, telecom leader Qualcomm, and another leader in chip design, Texas Instruments.
These companies are creating what the industry calls SOC (system on a chip) designs. SOC also means a far shorter "bus" route for the data to travel on.
Intel also designs SOCs, but that's one company versus dozens of companies using the ARM, each with its own ideas. As a result you end up with chips like TI's OMAP3440, which offers multimedia graphics, signal processing, and support for Windows Mobile and Symbian OSes. ARM claims the A8 combined with TI uses one-quarter of the power of the Atom, is twice as fast for browsing and video, and lasts 20 times longer during standby.
The TI chip is in cell phones, but imagine a similar chip in netbooks -- because that's the latest direction ARM chips are taking.
Imagine a netbook with a six-cell battery powered by a chip that uses only about one-fourth the power consumption of an Atom. You will end up with battery life lasting a full day or more.