ARM processors: everything worth knowing in a nutshell

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ARM processors: for smartphones, tablets and company.

Comparing smartphones, tablets, wearables, and comparable devices quickly leads to the processor specifications and then to the abbreviation POOR. The call ARM processors they are almost ubiquitous, but only a few users can do much with this technical information. Some users may wonder why the widespread x86 processors from Intel and AMD, found in most Windows PCs, aren’t also used in mobile devices. In this blog post, you’ll learn everything you need to know about ARM processors, including the pros and cons.

What are ARM processors?

ARM processors are based on the Reduced Instruction Set Computer (RISC) architecture and represent a family of CPUs developed by ARM Limited. The ARM architecture follows a low-power concept, i.e. a particularly efficient energy balance, and is consequently associated with low heat development (TDP). Therefore, ARM processors are also mainly used in mobile devices, but are increasingly paving the way to higher performance classes. Today, manufacturers such as Rockchip, Nvidia, and NXP offer a large number of different ARM processors for various application areas.

What are the advantages of ARM processors?

ARM processors not only impress with optimized power management and lower heat generation, but also with many other advantages.

Thanks to the reduced instruction set of RISC processors, a relatively large number of instructions can be processed in a short time. Also, the simplicity and small number of instructions allow for a less complicated processor design. Mostly independent processing units and separate internal bus systems are a special feature of ARM processors.

Both in terms of speed and power consumption, it is noticeable that RISC instructions do not have to be decoded into smaller microcodes. All commands have the same format and can therefore be implemented more quickly.

The simple instructions of ARM processors mean less circuitry requirements, making them much smaller processors. The combination of small size and less complex manufacturing processes reduces production costs and, consequently, prices for the end user. The size difference compared to x86 processors is also responsible for ARM processors eventually catching on in mobile devices.

A key feature of the ARM architecture is heterogeneous computingwhich is also partly responsible for the lower power requirement.

Heterogeneous computing architecture: Efficiency through smart energy demand

By definition, heterogeneous computing is a specific system design consideration that involves the use of different processors, cores, or other hardware components within a single system.

Systems with heterogeneous computing have notable performance and energy efficiency advantages. For example, the components of an ARM-based CPU not only contain the same type of processor, but also other different coprocessors that have specialized processing capabilities dedicated to handling specific tasks.

The idea behind heterogeneous computing is simple. Basically, it’s about building an architecture that allows different CPU components with different performance capabilities to work together and thus increase efficiency. The specific ARM big.LITTLE architecture, first introduced in 2011, enables an ARM-based processor to split the workload between high-performance and low-performance CPU cores.

For example, an 8-core ARM CPU in a smartphone might have four low power cores that are fast enough for everyday tasks like browsing the web, watching a video, listening to music, and handling small tasks in the background. As soon as you start a video game or start creating content like photo editing, the four High performance CPU in action. The intelligent use of the different cores ultimately requires less power.

Apple’s M1 chip: a leading example of intelligent chip management

on Apple M1 chip it is the first one system on a chip from Apple, which is based on the ARM architecture and exploits all the strengths of heterogeneous computing. Various components including CPU, GPU, encoding/decoding engines, secure enclave, SSD controller and many more are combined under the roof of one efficient chip. According to Apple, all Macs will be available with ARM processors by the end of 2022. Thus, Apple is increasingly saying goodbye to the Intel chips that have been installed in Apple products for many years.

The M1 chip has high performance quad core and high efficiency quad core, which are used as needed. Therefore, Apple’s M1 chip can be seen as an outstanding example of heterogeneous computing at the highest level, which is characteristic of the ARM architecture.

What are the disadvantages of ARM processors?

the x86 architecture it has been the standard architecture used by computer and chip manufacturers for several years. The entire ecosystem is used to developing and using x86-based software or applications. Programs or applications written on the x86 architecture will not run natively on ARM-powered devices. It is certainly possible to talk about compatibility issues, which among other things lead to the fact that comparatively few software solutions are available for devices with an ARM processor. However, it should be noted that code emulators allow you to run x86-compiled programs on an ARM device. This works relatively well, but there are serious performance losses.

From the perspective of software developers and compilers, developing programs or applications for ARM processors requires more effort than developing for an x86 architecture. Processor performance is highly dependent on the programmer or software developer.

Where else are ARM processors used?

The great advantage of ARM processors is that they are designed for the lowest possible power consumption with high computing power at the same time. Therefore, they are ideal processors for devices where power efficiency is more important than overall performance.

ARM processors are found in devices of all kinds: microwave ovens, dishwashers, washing machines, embedded control systems, toys, media players, and many other devices take advantage of the ARM architecture.

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