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The Ever So Unlikely Tale of How ARM Came To Rule the World 111

Posted by samzenpus
from the top-of-the-class dept.
pacopico writes "About 24 years ago, a tiny chip company came to life in a Cambridge, England barn. It was called ARM, and it looked quite unlike any other chip company that had come before it. Businessweek has just published something of an oral history on the weird things that took place to let ARM end up dominating the mobile revolution and rivaling Coke and McDonald's as the most prolific consumer product company on the planet. The story also looks at what ARM's new CEO needs to do not to mess things up."
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The Ever So Unlikely Tale of How ARM Came To Rule the World

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  • Acorn Risc Machine (Score:4, Informative)

    by Grindalf (1089511) on Monday February 24, 2014 @03:32PM (#46326815) Journal
    The acorn risk processor was designed for the British "BBC Microcomputer" to be attached via the "Tube" second processor system as a software development system for schools and colleges. This experimental machine was so successful and fast that it became became the new Acorn Archimedes computer which was used by the British Schools to teach kids how to write computer programmes.
  • by BasilBrush (643681) on Monday February 24, 2014 @03:41PM (#46326919)

    Well, I think it's fair to say that the ARM was designed for use in a new computer which turned out to be the Archimedes. It was available first as second processor for the BBC Micro, but that was really just a step in development, not it's original goal.

    Creating the ARM simply as a second processor wouldn't have been economically viable. Few people/organisations bought second processors.

  • by mrbester (200927) on Monday February 24, 2014 @03:44PM (#46326951) Homepage

    ARM themselves incorporated in 1990 (hence the 24 years). However, you are correct that Acorn chips predated the company.

  • by flightmaker (1844046) on Monday February 24, 2014 @03:53PM (#46327065)
    A couple of years ago I donated my Acorn System 1 to the Museum of Computing in Swindon. It was on their Most Wanted list! I learned rather a lot with that machine, hand assembling machine code.
  • by mveloso (325617) on Monday February 24, 2014 @04:04PM (#46327193)

    As a note, back in the day Apple stayed afloat by selling its stake in ARM.

  • by leathered (780018) on Monday February 24, 2014 @04:08PM (#46327269)

    Not really, what matters most is cost, and at that ARM wins hands down. Most ARM chips cost less than $5, with some selling for pennies. Intel enjoys 60%+ margins on everything it sells and they will experience a lot of pain giving them up.

    The only way Intel can compete is if they sell their mobile chips at or below cost. Oh wait, they already are. [slashdot.org]

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 24, 2014 @05:13PM (#46328091)

    They considered and rejected the 68000 option. The Atari ST and Commodore Amiga were already dominating the market. A 68000-based Acorn system would have no advantages over those while being "late to the game". They figured that they basically needed to leapfrog the 16-bit systems in order to survive.

    Unfortunately, by the time the Archimedes came out, the computing world was standardising around the IBM-compatible PC, and even the Archimedes' superior performance compared to PCs of that era (about the time the first 386 systems appeared) couldn't save it (Atari and Commodore didn't fare much better).

    The irony is that the (seemingly-harebrained) decision to design their own CPU (thus ensuring incompatibility with everything else on the planet) on a shoe-string budget ended up hitting the jackpot. The "sane" approach of using a popular chip (680x0, 80x86) would have relegated them to the history books, alongside 5.25" floppies and dBase III.

  • by sugar and acid (88555) on Monday February 24, 2014 @05:44PM (#46328475)

    The article skipped over the whole development of the arm processor. It wasn't developed for the newton, the original architecture was for the acorn archimedes risc based computers, launched in 1987.

    The key difference that set Acorn apart from every desktop PC type computer manufacturer at the time, is they went down the road of actually designing their own processors for the PC market. This is instead of using one from Motorola or IBM

    I think what set the ARM apart going forward was they used modern for the time CPU design principles, but they aimed for a lower end consumer grade market instead of the higher end mainframe/server/workstation/supercomputer market. Because of this they were all about getting the most performance from cheaper slightly older chip fab technologies. All of these ultimately meant that the design constraints imposed early on translated well to mobile applications.

  • by another_gopher (1934682) on Monday February 24, 2014 @05:55PM (#46328603)
    Tony Smith's articles on the history of micro-computers does this far better:
    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2012/06/01/acorn_archimedes_is_25_years_old/

Life would be so much easier if we could just look at the source code. -- Dave Olson

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