TOP3 smart moves

By: Richard Cownie (, September 27, 2009 12:12 pm
Room: Moderated Discussions
anonib ( on 9/26/09 wrote:

>3) ARM designs the ARM instruction set and then successfully licenses the heck
>out of it. (I guess MIPS did this as well, but for some reason they have faded from the scene in recent years.)

The end result - billions of ARMs shipped - is fine. But
how it all happened was more a happy accident than a smart

The ARM was originally designed at Acorn Computer as a
cpu (together with 3 other chips, MEMC, VIDC, IOC, if I
remember it correctly) for a new home computer as a
successor to the BBC Microcomputer. They also had a
plan to build a whole new operating system for business-
oriented workstations, using ARM, Modula-2+, and a
filesystem designed for write-once optical disks. That
OS project collapsed in chaos (though some of the people
and ideas went on to do Sun's experimental Spring OS).
The ARM emerged in the Acorn Archimedes computer, with
an OS evolved from the BBC microcomputer firmware, and
written in a combination of ARM assembler and - I kid
you not - interpreted BASIC.

[Aside: I worked there during that period, first on the
failed OS project and then on the NorCroft ARM C compiler].

Acorn Computer got itself into deep financial trouble:
they made most of their revenue selling home computers;
most of those sales happened in the run-up to Christmas;
so you had to get your product ready for that short
window and predict sales and build the right number of
machines. For several years they had exponential growth.
Then one year they built enough machines to satisfy
a further doubling or tripling of volume, and it didn't
happen. Leaving them with no money, and millions of
unsold machines sitting in warehouses.

After a lot of scratching around to figure out what parts
of the company actually might be worth saving, the ARM
cpu stuff got split into a separate company, while the
old Acorn Computer mostly refocused onto set-top boxes
and similar not-quite-computer products.

This was helped along by an investment from Apple, who
were already doing stuff with the ARM (maybe laser
printers and the Newton PDA ?).

Now I think the ARM plc guys have done a good job of
figuring out a workable business model based on very low
license fees and very high volume, and of continuing to
produce competitive ARM core designs (especially
competitive on performance/watt). But that was never the
original design goal for ARM-1. ARM-1 had to be small
because it had to be designed quickly by a small team;
and it needed good interrupt response to meet the other
requirements of the system design. Those constraints
happened to yield a cpu well-suited to many low-power
embedded applications. But that wasn't planned.
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TopicPosted ByDate
TOP3 blundersanon2009/09/25 07:38 PM
  TOP3 blundersrwessel2009/09/25 07:58 PM
  TOP3 blundersPotatoswatter2009/09/26 02:12 AM
    TOP3 blundersJouni Osmala2009/09/26 08:47 AM
    TOP3 blundersWilco2009/09/26 10:51 AM
      TOP3 blundersPotatoswatter2009/09/26 01:04 PM
        TOP3 blundersRagingDragon2009/09/28 02:58 PM
  TOP3 blunders?2009/09/26 03:44 AM
    TOP3 blundersanon2009/09/26 06:55 AM
      TOP3 blunders?2009/09/26 10:49 AM
        TOP3 blundersPotatoswatter2009/09/26 01:38 PM
        TOP3 blundersJouni Osmala2009/09/26 09:52 PM
          TOP3 blunders?2009/09/27 01:08 AM
            implementationAM2009/09/27 01:31 AM
          the generic mechanismAM2009/09/27 01:15 AM
            the generic mechanism?2009/09/27 02:30 AM
          TOP3 blunderssomeone2009/09/27 07:49 AM
            TOP3 blunders?2009/09/27 08:33 AM
              TOP3 blundersBlistering blue barnacles2009/09/28 08:44 PM
              TOP3 blundersslacker2009/09/29 07:28 AM
                (12nJ/cycle)*3GHz = 36W (NT)Michael S2009/09/29 08:31 AM
                  That's what I get for posting so early. (NT)slacker2009/09/29 06:17 PM
          TOP3 blunderskoby m.2009/09/29 07:26 AM
            TOP3 blundersJouni Osmala2009/09/29 11:05 PM
              TOP3 blunders?2009/09/30 02:26 AM
    TOP3 blundersPotatoswatter2009/09/26 07:11 AM
      TOP3 blunderssomeone2009/09/26 09:26 AM
    ISA extensions - tensilica?David Kanter2009/09/26 10:17 AM
      ISA extensions - StretchWes Felter2009/09/26 11:24 AM
        ISA extensions - Stretch?2009/09/26 01:14 PM
          ISA extensions - StretchGabriele Svelto2009/09/28 03:14 AM
  TOP3 blundersanonymous2009/09/26 06:23 AM
  TOP3 smart movesanonib2009/09/26 07:11 PM
    TOP3 smart movesDavid W. Hess2009/09/26 07:55 PM
      TOP3 smart movesRichard Cownie2009/09/27 01:57 PM
        TOP3 smart movesRagingDragon2009/09/28 03:46 PM
    TOP3 smart movesa reader2009/09/27 08:44 AM
    TOP3 smart movesRichard Cownie2009/09/27 12:12 PM
      TOP2 probably illegal smart movesRichard Cownie2009/09/27 01:43 PM
        TOP2 probably illegal smart movesnn2009/09/27 07:27 PM
        TOP2 probably illegal smart movesDavid Kanter2009/09/29 01:48 AM
          TOP2 probably illegal smart movesRichard Cownie2009/09/29 10:31 AM
            TOP2 probably illegal smart movesMichael S2009/09/29 11:04 AM
              TOP2 probably illegal smart movesDavid Kanter2009/09/29 01:35 PM
              TOP2 probably illegal smart movesRichard Cownie2009/09/29 04:28 PM
              TOP2 probably illegal smart movesJouni Osmala2009/09/29 11:08 PM
              Link to good analysis on the matter.Jouni Osmala2009/09/29 11:22 PM
                Link to good analysis on the matter.Richard Cownie2009/09/30 09:59 AM
  TOP3 blunder of todayMichael S2009/09/29 04:31 AM
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