back to article Not all vendors' Arm-powered kit is created equally, benchmark fan finds

Arm-powered laptops and desktops are appearing on the market, but external appearances are deceptive. These are very different from familiar x86-based PCs, as the accounts of those experimenting with them reveal. Compared to x86 machines, which have the widest range of interchangeable, modular hardware in the history of …

  1. Sgt_Oddball

    Really to get wider adoption....

    We need more modular systems, upgradable cpu and memory seem to be the last great hurdle for this but that would also give less freedom to CPU makers since they'd need to build for everyone rather than tailor to a specific use case.

    It's all abit awkward really.

    1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

      Re: We need more modular systems

      That was the case around 20 years ago but the creation of SOC's has made that IMHO, a thing of the past.

      Once upon a time, you had a choice of 'Computer Fairs' to go to on a Sunday. I still use a pair of Dell Keyboards that I bought at the one in Addiscombe for £5.00 each.

      The SOC and the levels of performance that Apple has shown with the M1 and M2, has shown us all how to do it. Performance without the heat (and fan noise) plus a long battery life.

      Qualcomm and the rest will be racing to catch up.

      I got my M1 16in MBP a couple of weeks ago. My workflows have been halved in time despite the new machine having half the RAM as its predecessor (2020 16in MBP). The old device will be passed onto my grandson once I get the arrow keys fixed under Applecare.

      As far as I'm concerned, Intel and AMD are dead men walking. I will be moving my Linux servers to ARM as soon as I can get a small form factor system. I am using one R-Pi but it is a bit of a kludge. I'm fed up with the slow boot times of the SD card. Time to allow booting from M2 SSD's.

    2. matjaggard

      Re: Really to get wider adoption....

      I'm not sure you can make these systems more modular without a significant trade-off. One of the ways that Apple have got this performance is the very tight coupling between parts of the system. The RAM necessarily is very physically close to the CPU, GPU and other parts.

      1. gnasher729 Silver badge

        Re: Really to get wider adoption....

        Apples ARM chips are just brute force: Massive instruction level parallelism (nine execution units), massive out-of-order capabilities (over 500 instructions in flight), massive caches (320+192k L1, 28M L2), massive memory bandwidth and massive speed for swapping data with the SSD drives, so people use 8GB of RAM without complaining.

        1. Glenn Amspaugh

          Re: Really to get wider adoption....


          Toy procs for toy computers that can't even run Doom.

  2. Caver_Dave Silver badge

    A meal is a selection of menu items.

    This is not uncommon.

    ARM is basically a menu of IP that you gather into your SOC with your own glue logic and IP.

    As with all designs, you can make choices in this, trading speed, power, size and functionality.

    1. Liam Proven (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      Re: A meal is a selection of menu items.

      [Author here]

      With the rather salient exception that Apple chose just the instruction set off the menu, and built their own in-house CPU core, plus their own GPU, and designed and built their own hardware, from the gates up, to execute the existing Arm ISA that they had already been using for their phones and tablets since the Apple Newton.

      ARM Ltd exists because Apple picked the Acorn RISC chip's ISA for its new handheld, while Steve Jobs was away trying to build NeXTstations.

      Apple didn't want to buy chips from Acorn, and Acorn didn't sell chips. So, Acorn who designed it, and VLSI who built it, and Apple who wanted to buy it, made a new company to sell the chips: ARM Ltd.

      The difference between Apple SOCs and, well, everyone else's, is that Apple hired a tonne of CPU designers, and bought in a CPU design company (PASemi), and built a chip to run Arm code as quickly as possible, while Arm and its licensees were trying to built SOCs to run as much Arm code for as few milliwatts as possible.

      Apple is not using Arm-designed cores. It's not Cortex-anything. It's not using Arm GPUs. They are Apple CPU cores and Apple GPUs, designed by Apple, to run Arm's instruction set... because it already used Arm SOCs and had Arm code compilers and an Arm code kernel etc.

  3. heyrick Silver badge

    Apples and pears

    A desktop PC is a box with a motherboard and all sorts of bits can be added and removed and swapped around with bits from all sorts of manufacturers. So this need for interchangeable parts goes right back to the early days.

    Pretty much no ARM device has ever needed to have any sort of equivalent. The closest is perhaps the Acorn RiscPC that accepted standard memory modules and you could change the processor card. But the ecosystem is for customised SoCs which is a fixed entity aimed at a specific device (or class of devices in the case of things like Snapdragon). There's no need for interchangeable parts and with integrated GPU and I/O and all, it wouldn't be possible anyway.

    So mixing and matching on ARM hardware isn't really possible, but it's not right to compare against a PC, it isn't one. It evolved differently.

    1. Liam Proven (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      Re: Apples and pears

      [Author here]

      Yes and no. I think that in terms of cause-and-effect you are putting the cart before the horse here.

      There is nothing inherent about Arm _per se_ that means that they have to be highly-integrated. It would be perfectly possible to design an Arm box with generic PCI-e slots and an offboard GPU, disk controller and all the normal gubbins of a PC, and if you did that, it could run Linux and Arm-compiled drivers for all the bits.

      But everyone is paying attention to Arm again because the M1 chips are both so bally fast, and run so cool, that they make for very powerful desktops and also for exceptionally thin laptops with exceptionally long battery life.

      I owned an Acorn Archimedes in the 1980s. This is not news to me. :-) My £800 ARM2 box outperformed the fastest £10,000 PC my employers had as a demo model. (Nobody much bought that model, partly because it was ten thousand quid. Excluding keyboard, monitor and DOS, as was IBM's wont.)

      Now, Apple has put the Arm ISA back in that position. It is just about the fastest desktop or laptop money can buy.

      *But* the thing is that Apple has achieved that by extremely tight integration and most of a computer on a single SOC: CPU, chipset, GPU, all the RAM, all in one package. And packaging that allows 2 SoCs to function as conjoined twins, too.

      It is the integration that has permitted the performance, but the ISA does not demand such integration.

      1. Detective Emil

        Re: Apples and pears

        Apple has put the Arm ISA back in that position. (That is, of outclassing allcomers.)

        Trouble is, A and M series chips are not available on the merchant market, and nobody else yet has anything close — not even with the ARM ISA. Much publicised defections of Apple architects and engineers are touted as allowing chip vendors to catch up, but the best I've seen promised is the end of 2023 — and that's probably predicated on Arm losing a licensing dispute in which it seems to have a strong case.

        Also, the literature about reverse-engineering the M1 shows that Apple has put up as many road-blocks as it can by patenting its speed-ups from here to kingdom come — although this is a game everyboy plays.

        In short, don't hold your breath.

        1. DS999 Silver badge

          Re: Apples and pears

          The patents don't really matter since the big players mostly cross license with each other. It is more for protection from patent trolls who if Apple (Intel, AMD, etc.) didn't patent what they were doing in their CPUs a troll would do so and then sue them.

          The US switching to a "first to file" system like the rest of the world only makes patenting everything more important, as showing they invented it first is no longer a sufficient defense.

        2. Liam Proven (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

          Re: Apples and pears

          [Author here]

          > A and M series chips are not available on the merchant market

          No, and they won't be. Apple makes its money selling computers, and always has.

          Not OSes: macOS is free. Not capital-F Free Software, but small-F freeware. iOS, iPadOS, tvOS, watchOS: all freeware if you own the hardware -- and they won't run on anything else.

          Whereas Microsoft get you to pay for Windows by stealth, and then charge you for new versions... because it's hard work and for most people it's easier to buy a new computer.

          Not from malice, nor collusion. If this was an evil plot, Windows would make it easier to upgrade to a new computer than to upgrade Windows in place. Always remember Hanlon's razor.

  4. Charlie Clark Silver badge

    Using Python for the driver

    While it might not be the best tool for the job, modern machines are fast enough for you to use it to get some kind of prototype quickly than can later be written in C or Rust.

  5. Sparkus

    no mention of the bugs in

    the M1, M1X and M2?

    1. elbisivni

      Re: no mention of the bugs in

      You have piqued my interest, and rather wish you’d made your post a little more informative by expanding on the bugs you are referencing.

      I note you used plural ‘bugs’. I’m already aware of ‘M1RACLES’, could you identify the others so I can add them to the test environments? I’ve already had trouble getting it to work on M1 Pro, but not the standard M1 or M1 Max.

      [note - not a hacker!]

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