ARM from zero to billions in 25 short years

April was an exciting month for ARM but for me the real excitement started 25 years ago.

Not only did ARM announce record results for shipments of ARM based chips with our partners shipping more than 1.4 billion cores during Q1, an increase of 70% on last year. Not bad!

ARM was also awarded the EETimes' ACE Award for the Company of the Year.

If these sound like accolades and numbers, well then all you had to do was head out to ESC where many of our partners had innovative ARM-based products and technology on display.

Definitely a tsunami of good news, but the real story happened just 25 short years ago when on April 26th 1985 at precisely 3pm GMT the first ARM silicon came to life in Cambridge, England. At that time, ARM the company did not yet exist. Instead Acorn a UK based computer company was leading a charge to bring affordable computing technology to the UK as part of a joint project with the BBC. In 1983, seeing the need to move beyond its 8-bit CPU architecture, Acorn requested a sample of the 80286 processor from Intel.

In a bit of irony, Intel refused to support Acorn's request and a secret project to invent a new CPU instruction set for Acorn's computing needs was born. Since the focus of the Acorn computing initiative was to bring low-cost computing to the home, the team led by Steve Furber (who was also just nominated for the prestigious Millennium Tech Prize for this work) and Roger Wilson decided to develop a Reduced Instruction Set Chip (RISC) processor.

In April of 1985, the first ARM (Acorn RISC Machine renamed later to Advanced RISC Machine) silicon came to life as the ARM 3µm processor. It was a 32-bit RISC machine built with only 25,000 transistors. 

This was a startling achievement in processor design and remains the very reason why the ARM processor is today not only the darling of the mobile industry but the processor of choice for any energy conscious product. Of course ARM 3um was succeeded by ARM 2um (30,000 transistors) which was the processor in Acorn's multimedia PC known as the Archimedes launching the ARM processor into low-cost computing.

The success of the ARM core together with some evangelism from John Stockton a research fellow at VLSI eventually caught the attention of Apple. Apple was looking for processor solutions to power its Newton product line. So in 1990 a new joint venture Advanced RISC Machines (ARM) was formed between Acorn, Apple and VLSI chartered to drive low-cost, low-power, high-performance ARM-based RISC chips forward. More on that story later this year...

Overtime ARM has become the industry standard for low-power processing and driven innovation throughout the industry. The result today is easily seen in the billions of ARM-powered products that service nearly every facet of the industry. 1.4 Billions ARM cores shipped in Q1 what a great birthday present.

For more detailed information on the history of ARM the ARM Core, check out a great article by Markus Levy "The History of The ARM Core: From Inception to IPO" in IQ Magazine.