ARM Holdings plc (ARM) is a multinational semiconductor and software design company, owned by SoftBank Group. Headquartered in Cambridge, United Kingdom, its primary business is in the design of ARM processors (CPUs), although it also designs software development tools under the DS-5, RealView and Keil brands, as well as systems and platforms, system-on-a-chip (SoC) infrastructure and software. It is considered to be market dominant for processors in mobile phones (smartphones or otherwise) and tablet computers. The company is one of the best-known 'Silicon Fen' companies.
Processors based on designs licensed from ARM, or designed by licensees of one of the ARM instruction set architectures, are used in all classes of computing devices. Examples include microcontrollers in embedded systems – including real-time safety systems (cars' ABS), smart TVs (Google TV), all modern smartwatches (such as Qualcomm Toq), as well as smartphones, tablets, laptops, desktops, servers and supercomputers/HPC.
ARM's Mali line of graphics processing units (GPU) are used in laptops, in over 50% of Android tablets by market share, and some versions of Samsung's smartphones and smartwatches (Samsung Galaxy Gear). It is third most popular in mobile devices.
Systems, including iPhone smartphones, frequently include many chips, from many different providers, that include one or more licensed ARM cores, in addition to those in the main ARM-based processor. ARM's core designs are also used in chips that support many common network related technologies in smartphones: Bluetooth, WiFi and broadband, in addition to corresponding equipment such as Bluetooth headsets, 802.11ac routers, and network provider's cellular LTE.
ARM's main CPU competitors include Intel and AMD for servers,. In mobile applications, Intel's Atom is a competitor, as well as with x86 chips. AMD also sells ARM based chips as well as x86; Imagination Technologies (MIPS) offers another RISC design for embedded systems. ARM's main GPU competitors include mobile GPUs from Imagination Technologies (PowerVR), Qualcomm (Adreno) and increasingly Nvidia and Intel. Despite competing within GPUs, Qualcomm and Nvidia have combined their GPUs with an ARM licensed CPU.
ARM had a primary listing on the London Stock Exchange and was a constituent of the FTSE 100 Index. It has a secondary listing on NASDAQ. However Japanese telecommunications company SoftBank Group made an agreed offer for ARM on 18 July 2016, subject to approval by ARM's shareholders, valuing the company at £23.4 billion. The transaction was completed on 5 September 2016.
The acronym ARM was first used in 1983 and originally stood for "Acorn RISC Machine". Acorn Computers first RISC processor was used in the original Acorn Archimedes and was one of the first RISC processors used in small computers. However, when the company was incorporated in 1990, the acronym was changed to "Advanced RISC Machines", in light of the company's name "Advanced RISC Machines Ltd." At the time of the IPO in 1998, the company name was changed to "ARM Holdings", often just called ARM like the processors.
The company was founded in November 1990 as Advanced RISC Machines Ltd and structured as a joint venture between Acorn Computers, Apple Computer (now Apple Inc.) and VLSI Technology. The new company intended to further the development of the Acorn RISC Machine processor, which was originally used in the Acorn Archimedes and had been selected by Apple for their Newton project. Its first profitable year was 1993. The company's Silicon Valley and Tokyo offices were opened in 1994. ARM invested in Palmchip Corporation in 1997 to provide system on chip platforms and to enter into the disk drive market. In 1998 the Company changed its name from Advanced RISC Machines Ltd to ARM Ltd. The Company was first listed on the London Stock Exchange and NASDAQ in 1998 and by February 1999, Apple's shareholding had fallen to 14.8%.
In 2010, ARM joined with IBM, Texas Instruments, Samsung, ST-Ericsson and Freescale Semiconductor (now NXP Semiconductors) in forming a non-profit open source engineering company, Linaro.Micrologic Solutions, a software consulting company based in Cambridge
Allant Software, a developer of debugging software
Infinite Designs, a design company based in Sheffield
EuroMIPS a smart card design house in Sophia Antipolis, France
The engineering team of Noral Micrologics, a debug hardware and software company based in Blackburn, England
Adelante Technologies of Belgium, creating its OptimoDE data engines business, a form of lightweight DSP engine
Axys Design Automation, a developer of ESL design tools and Artisan Components, a designer of Physical IP (standard cell libraries, memory compilers, PHYs etc.), the building blocks of integrated circuits
KEIL Software, a leading developer of software development tools for the microcontroller (MCU) market, including 8051 and C16x platforms. ARM also acquired the engineering team of PowerEscape.
Falanx (now called ARM Norway), a developer of 3D graphics accelerators and SOISIC, who specialise in developing silicon-on-insulator physical IP
Obsidian Software Inc., a privately held company that creates processor verification products
Prolific, a developer of automated layout optimisation software tools, and the Prolific team will join the ARM physical IP team
Internet of Things startup Sensinode
Cadence’s PANTA family of high-resolution display processor and scaling coprocessor IP cores
PolarSSL, a software library implementing the SSL and TLS protocols. (In February 2015, PolarSSL has been rebranded to mbed TLS to better show its fit inside the mbed ecosystem.)
Duolog Technologies, an electronic design automation company that developed a suite of tools that automate the process of IP configuration and IP integration
Sansa Security, a provider of hardware security IP and software for advanced system-on-chip components deployed in Internet of Things (IoT) and mobile devices
Wicentric, a Bluetooth Smart stack and profile provider
Sunrise Micro Devices, a provider of sub-one volt Bluetooth radio intellectual property (IP).
Offspark, a provider of IoT security software
Carbon Design Systems, a provider of cycle-accurate virtual prototyping solutions
On 19 November, ARM, alongside Cisco Systems, Dell, Intel, Microsoft, and Princeton University, founded the OpenFog Consortium, to promote interests and development in fog computing.
Apical, a provider of Imaging and Embedded computer vision IP products
Allinea Software, a leading provider of software tools for HPC
Japanese telecommunications company SoftBank Group made an agreed offer for ARM on 18 July 2016, subject to approval by ARM's shareholders, valuing the company at £23.4 billion. The transaction was completed on 5 September 2016.
Unlike most traditional microprocessor suppliers, such as Intel, Freescale (the former semiconductor division of Motorola, now NXP Semiconductors) and Renesas (a former joint venture between Hitachi and Mitsubishi Electric), ARM only creates and licenses its technology as intellectual property (IP), rather than manufacturing and selling its own physical CPUs, GPUs, SoCs or microcontrollers. This model is similar to fellow British design houses: ARC International, and Imagination Technologies who have similarly been designing and licensing GPUs, CPUs, and SoCs, along with supplying tooling and various design and support services to their licensees.
The company has offices and design centres across the world, including San Jose, California, Austin, Texas, Chandler, Arizona and Olympia, Washington in the United States; Bangalore and Noida in India; Trondheim in Norway; Lund in Sweden; Sophia Antipolis in France; Munich in Germany; Yokohama in Japan; China, Taiwan, Slovenia and Hungary.
A characteristic feature of ARM processors is their low electric power consumption, which makes them particularly suitable for use in portable devices. In fact, almost all modern mobile phones and personal digital assistants contain ARM CPUs, making them the most widely used 32-bit microprocessor family in the world. As of 2005, ARMs accounted for over 75% of all 32-bit embedded CPUs.
ARM processors are used as the main CPU for most mobile phones, including those manufactured by Apple, HTC, Nokia, Sony Ericsson and Samsung; many PDAs and handhelds, like the Apple iPod and iPad, Game Boy Advance and Nintendo DS, Game Park GP32 and GamePark Holdings GP2X; as well as many other applications, including GPS navigation devices, digital cameras, digital televisions, network devices and storage. The WLAN processor of Sony's PlayStation Portable is an older ARM9.
ARM offers several microprocessor core designs that have been "publicly licensed" 830 times including 249 times for their newer "application processors" (non-microcontroller) used in such applications as smartphones and tablets. Three of those companies are known to have a licence for one of ARM's most powerful processor core, the 64-bit Cortex-A72 (some including ARM's other 64-bit core the Cortex-A53) and four have a licence to their most powerful 32-bit core, the Cortex-A15.
Cores for 32-bit architectures include Cortex-A32, Cortex-A15, Cortex-A12, Cortex-A17, Cortex-A9, Cortex-A8, Cortex-A7 and Cortex-A5, and older "Classic ARM Processors", as well as variant architectures for microcontrollers that include these cores: ARM Cortex-R7, ARM Cortex-R5, ARM Cortex-R4, ARM Cortex-M4, ARM Cortex-M3, ARM Cortex-M1, ARM Cortex-M0+, and ARM Cortex-M0 for licensing; the three most popular licensing models are the "Perpetual (Implementation) License", "Term License" and "Per Use License".
Companies often license these designs from ARM to manufacture and integrate into their own System on chip (SoC) with other components such as GPUs (sometimes ARM's Mali) or radio basebands (for mobile phones).
In addition to licenses for their core designs, ARM offers an "architectural license" for their instruction sets, allowing the licensees to design their own cores that implement one of those instruction sets. An ARM architectural license is more costly than a regular ARM core license, and also requires the necessary engineering power to design a CPU based on the instruction set.
Processors believed to be designed independently from ARM include Apple's (architecture license from March 2008) A6, A6X, A7 and all subsequent Apple processors (used in iPhone 5, iPad and iPhone 5S), Qualcomm's Snapdragon series (used in smartphones such as the US version of the Samsung Galaxy S4) and Samsung's Exynos ("Mongoose" M1 cores). There were around 15 architectural licensees in 2013, including Marvell, Apple, Qualcomm, Broadcom and some others.
Companies that are current licensees of the 64-bit ARMv8-A core designs include AMD, AppliedMicro (X-Gene), Broadcom, Calxeda, HiSilicon, Rockchip, Samsung, and STMicroelectronics.
Companies that are current or former licensees of 32-bit ARM core designs include AMD, Broadcom, Freescale (now NXP Semiconductors), Huawei (HiSilicon division), IBM, Infineon Technologies (Infineon XMC 32-bit MCU families), Intel (older "ARM11 MPCore"), LG, Microsemi, NXP Semiconductors, Renesas, Rockchip, Samsung, STMicroelectronics, and Texas Instruments.
In 2013, ARM stated that there are around 15 architectural licensees, but the full list is not yet public knowledge.
Companies with a 64-bit ARMv8-A architectural license include Applied Micro, Broadcom, Cavium, Huawei, Nvidia, AMD, Samsung, and Apple.
Companies with a 32-bit ARM architectural license include Broadcom (ARMv7), Faraday Technology (ARMv4, ARMv5), Marvell Technology Group, Microsoft, Qualcomm, Intel, and Apple.
Fujitsu (a supercomputer maker of June 2011 worlds fastest K computer according to TOP500) announced at the International Supercomputing Conference in June 2016 that its future exascale supercomputer will feature processors of its own design that implement the ARMv8 architecture. These processors will also implement extensions to the ARMv8 architecture equivalent to HPC-ACE2 that Fujitsu is developing with ARM Holdings.
Companies that are current licensees of the Mali GPU designs include Rockchip, Allwinner, Samsung, Huawei, MediaTek, Spreadtrum and others.
Sales and market share
ARM-based CPU market share in 2010: over 95% in smartphone market; 10% in mobile computers; 35% in digital TVs and set-top boxes; however, ARM did not have any market share in servers and desktop PCs.
As of 2014, over 50 billion chips with ARM cores inside have been produced, 10 billion of which were produced in 2013,.
In the fourth quarter of 2010, 1.8 billion chips based on an ARM design were manufactured.
With Microsoft's ARM-based Windows 8 OS, market research firm IHS predicted that in 2015 23% of all the PCs in the world will use ARM processors. This guess by IHS has since been proved wrong and desktop Windows for ARM has been discontinued.
In May 2012, Dell announced the Copper platform, a server based on Marvell’s ARM powered devices. In October 2012, ARM announced the first set of early licensees of the 64-bit-capable Cortex-A57 processor.
ARM's goal was to have, by 2015, ARM-based processors in more than half of all tablets, mini-notebooks and other mobile PCs sold.
In 2011, ARM renewed a five-year, $5 million research partnership with University of Michigan, which extended their existing research partnership to 2015. This partnership will focus on ultra-low energy and sustainable computing.
Warren East was appointed Chief Executive Officer of ARM Holdings in October 2001. In the 2011 financial year, East received a total compensation of £1,187,500 from ARM, comprising a salary of £475,000 and a bonus of £712,500. East said in March 2013 that he would retire from ARM in May, with president Simon Segars taking over as CEO. In March 2014, former Rexam chairman Stuart Chambers succeeded John Buchanan as chairman. Chambers, a non-executive director of Tesco and former chief executive of Nippon Sheet Glass Group, had previously worked at Mars and Royal Dutch Shell.
Japanese IT company SoftBank Group Corp., owned by Masayoshi Son, made an agreed offer for ARM on 18 July 2016, at a price of £23.4 billion. If approved, it would be SoftBank's largest overseas acquisition to date, exceeding its acquisition of Sprint in 2013 at a price of US$22 billion. This is a major part of SoftBank's effort to address the IoT market. The United Kingdom withdrawal from the European Union resulted in a fall in the value of the pound, creating an opportunity for SoftBank to acquire ARM at a relatively low price in Japanese Yen. Son, however, explicitly stated that the weakened pound had no impact on his decision to acquire the company.