The Apple M1 Mac is ushering in a new arm-based PC era. The CEO of Arm is optimistic


Arm’s Cortex-X1 chip design can be optimized for improved performance, an approach that should be useful as Arm tries to boost its processor family in PCs.

Arm; Illustration by Stephen Shackland / CNET

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For years, computer manufacturers have tried to sell PCs built on arm processors, a power-efficient family that powers smartphones. Compared to models running on x86 chips from Intel and AMD, however, arm-based PCs have faced performance and software compatibility shortcomings.

Now Apple’s M1 processor, an Apple-designed member of the Arm family that powers the new MacBook, is changing the idea of ​​the Arm PC. M1 chips not only provide good battery life, such as Qualcomm’s arm chips in some Windows laptops, but also perform well. At the same time, x86 PCs have only improved slowly.

It is therefore no surprise to hear some new optimism from Arm Chief Executive Simon Seger.

“What we are starting to see now is real innovation going on in a market that has not had a huge amount of innovation,” Seger said in an interview during the CES 2021 Technology Conference. “Anytime there is discontent that makes people question how we are doing this, which injects energy into innovation.”

Part of the innovation comes from Arm itself, which is pouring new engineering resources into PC chip designs, he said. Another part may come from Nvidia, the leading graphics chipmaker trying to acquire Arm for $ 40 billion.

In fact, Arm has a better chance for Apple, endpoint technologies analyst Roger Kay said. “Arm is talking about breaking into this market forever. I think they are really on the cusp of being able to do it. At Apple’s Avenue” he said. Success for the arm means the PC is quite powerful for mainstream buyers, but capable enough that you can leave your charger in the desk drawer for a day or two without any worries.

Although Arm is not a household name, the company in Cambridge, England, has a large share of the technology computing market. The most important thing is that the arm chip tells about every smartphone. They are also used in networking gear, Internet-to-Gadget gadgets, Raspberry Pi computers for hardware hackers, and the world’s fastest supercomputer. About 20 billion arm chips ship each year.

Intel, AMD and Apple’s M1 ‘beast’

To be successful, Arm fans will have to reconnect with new chips coming from Intel and AMD that emerged at CES. CEO Lis Su said on Tuesday that AMD’s Raigen 5000 series laptop chips would have 17.5 hours of normal usage on their battery power. Intel showcased its next generation Elder Lake processors later this year. It adopts a combination of longer approaches, faster processing cores and slower, power-efficient cores used in arm chips.

The PC ecosystem of component manufacturers, software and PC makers has been difficult to crack, Segers acknowledged. He believes that the combination of arm’s performance and energy efficiency will eventually allow it to claim significant market share.

Arm CEO Simon Seger

REM CEO Simon Sager argues in September 2020 that Nvidia’s acquisition of his company is a good idea.

Screenshot by Stephen Shankland / CNET

Apple has proved that it is possible. “The M1 is a beast with a more aggressive core design,” said Tirias Research Analyst Kevin Crewell. “Apple’s M1 has confirmed that the arm architecture can perform highly and go toe-to-toe with the x86.”

Apple has an ecosystem advantage that other Arm PC manufacturers lack: including the ability to control MacOS operating systems, optimize performance, and ensure everything. For Windows PC software, supporting arm chips is usually the second priority at best, with Microsoft’s enthusiasm. Software manufacturers may consider Arm-Windows versions of their products to be optional, but in about two years all Mac Arm will be based.

Invest in hand in new chip design

Under its current ownership by investment firm SoftBank, Arm has invested heavily in new engineering. Chipmakers can license Arm’s full chip designs or simply set instructions that the software arm uses to communicate with chips, an approach that lets chipmakers design their own processors however they want. .

The design capabilities of REM mean that there is less incentive for chip makers to create their own designs. “Some people are licensing our CPU implementation technology compared to a few years ago,” Sigmar said. “You have to spend a lot of money to do better than Arm.”

Indeed, Samsung switched to Arm’s Cortex-X1 design for its new eight-core Exynos 2100 mobile processor announced at CES on Tuesday. Although not everyone is going in that direction. Fujitsu designed its own supercomputing chips, and on Wednesday, Qualcomm acquired startup Nuvia to revive its arm chip designs. If the Nuvia technology delivers on its promise, it could give a major boost to the arm PC market, as Qualcomm is the primary chipmaker behind the arm-powered Windows laptop.

It is unclear how big a problem Nvidia’s attempts to acquire Arm will be for chip licensees, including companies such as Qualcomm, MediaTek, Huawei, Marvel and Amazon. Nvidia and Arm argue that their chip technology is complementary and well suited to next-generation computing demands. Arm Chip is trying to assure licensees that they will be able to license Arm products as usual, but the reality is that Arm will also become part of a major competitor.

“It’s a Star-Cross takeover. The industry is the complete opposite of that,” Kay said. He is likely to be more interested in options such as RISC-V, a new chip instruction set available without Arm’s license constraints, he predicted.

Nvidia and Arm have given themselves 18 months to convince regulators the acquisition is a good idea, meaning it could close in early 2022. Companies are making “great progress” to regulators, Segars said, but “not all” regulatory analysis is quick. “

Update, 9:13 pm PT: Explains that Segers was commenting on the general possibilities of Arm PC.


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