back to article Post-IPO, Arm to push purpose-built almost-processors

The Arm that listed on the Nasdaq Thursday is a very different operation to the one Softbank took private in 2016, because the British chip designer has evolved from licensing its architecture and core designs to developing pre-validated almost-complete processor blueprints that offer a swift and cheap route to developing custom …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Public - not really

    Not really public - a sliver yes, and still controlled by SoftBank. They need to exit… but need their money to lay back the Saudi’s.

    1. Youngone Silver badge

      Re: Public - not really

      That was the bit that caught my attention too: Now that the biz has again gone public it is again accountable to a range of investors who expect strong returns, one way or another.

      which of course is nonsense, with the public bit being 10% or less. Softbank will continue to do what they want.

      Let's come back in 12 months and see what the share price is shall we?

  2. Bruce Hoult

    RISC-V behind but catching up

    The initial version of the RISC-V ISA with just basic integer and IEEE floating point instructions was ratified (frozen, formally published) in July 2019, almost eight years after the ARMv8-A spec was published (and which Arm had presumably been working on in secret for some years -- I suspect from around the time amd64 entered the market in 2003).

    Ratification was the starting gun for serious RISC-V players.

    A handful of chips existed before that -- a few made by students at Berkeley, generally with instruction sets quite different to the final version, the FE310 and FU540 made in quantities of a few hundred ("shuttle run") by some of those Berkeley students at their SiFive startup, and one commercial microcontroller, the Kendryte K210 made by Chinese company Canaan which specialises in BItcoin mining ASICs. Canaan checked out the then current snapshot of Berkeley's "Rocket" RISC-V core and built an SoC around it.

    A couple of reasonably high performance RISC-V cores, the SiFive U74 and the THead C910 were announced right around RISC-V ratification in 2019. The C910 is similar to Arm's A72, as found in e.g. the Raspberry Pi 4. The U74 is similar to ARM's A55, simpler cores that can approach A72/C910 performance (and significantly better than A53) but with much lower silicon area and energy usage.

    Multiple low cost RISC-V SBCs have come out this year using the U74 (JH7110 SoC) and C910 (TH1520), plus there is a 64 core C910 SoC (SG2042) that will be on boards shipping to retail customers before the end of the year (vendors have had EVBs since March).

    So that's basically four years behind the Raspberry Pi 4, both for announcement of the cores (2015 vs 2019) and SBCs shipping (2019 vs 2023).

    The Milk-V Mars (JH7110) is available starting from $39, with a Pi CM4-compatible board starting from $34. The Milk-V Meles (TH1520) is faster and starts from $99. Other companies including Sipeed, Pine64, and BeagleBoard are also shipping SBCs (and a tablet from Pine64) using one or the other of these chips, but so far Milk-V have the keenest pricing.

    2024 is going to see RISC-V boards competitive with the RK3588 Arm A76 boards such as Radxa Rock 5 and Orange Pi 5 [Plus]. Those will be about two years behind the similar Arm boards.

    Multiple companies ranging from SiFive to MIPS to Jim Keller's Tenstorrent to Ventana have RISC-V cores formally announced (or very close to it) that are in the Neoverse to Apple M1 range.

    1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: RISC-V behind but catching up

      Not sure if RISC-V is the threat that many imagine. Designs are licence free for desginers but that's not leading to "free" designs for all customers. How that develops may well depend on how much ARM wants to charge.

      Having a limited instruction set also sounds like trouble for cheap workhorse CPUs in the future that just need a compile step. For many having as little work to adapt software as possible could be decisive.

      1. 3arn0wl

        Re: RISC-V behind but catching up

        The design of the T-Head C910 that Bruce Hoult mentioned has been published, and there are other designs which have been open sourced too.

        RISC-V International has published standards for the instructions needed for various computing situations : RV64GC for example, is sufficient to run Linux.

        As for software rebasimg, it appears to be happening at quite a pace.

        The ISA isn't the threat, though (although it's already proved itself to be more efficient in microcontroller tasks) : the threat is the largest producer of electronics turning from Arm to RISCV because of trade restrictions. As the article points out, China provides 24% of Arm's revenue... for now.

        1. 3arn0wl

          Re: RISC-V behind but catching up

          There's also the likelihood of haemorrhaging Western design companies like Qualcomm, Bradcom. NXP, Bosch et al...

    2. steelpillow Silver badge

      Re: RISC-V behind but catching up

      As RISC-V eats into the bottom end of the market, ARM is going to find it hard to compete on bang-per-buck and still pay off its investors. Added value is about the only way to keep that business flying. Now, THAT is the big change. With the shoe now on the other foot after all these years, we'll soon get to see how it fits.

  3. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Salty ex employee?

      13 billion to run an IPO that sold around 5 billion of shares? The ‘talking bollocks’ is strong in this one!

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Why so bitter ... ?

  4. Bitman

    What's "the Nasdaq Thursday"?

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Microsoft way?

    I'm surprised that ARM hasn't gone down the route of Microsoft - Embrace, Extend, Extinguish (or make money out of it).

  6. fg_swe Bronze badge

    Don't Try To Force Anybody

    Apple has been developing a great(very fast, energy efficient) CPU based on the ARM ISA. This reflects back on the ARM idea very nicely. Instead provide the best compiler, the best debugger etc. Then Apple and others will come back to do business with ARM.

    Selling ready-to-use "silicon components" is of course a very useful idea. The processor world is much bigger than just "IT". For example, the automotive world needs highly reliable "MCUs", which are a combination of CPU, Flash, RAM, ADC, DAC, Timers, PWM, Crypto engines and so on. They run a version of the AUTOSAR OS on less than 3MByte of RAM and similar amount of Flash. These MCUs control things like ABS brakes, the "comfort" devices inside a car, or DCDC converters.

    The Silicon Components would therefore include mixed signal and application-specific circuits such as crypto, hashing, CRC, content addressable memory(CAM) and the like.

    Huge potential business. Can eat into NXP, STM, TI and Infineon market share ;-)

    1. blackcat Silver badge

      Re: Don't Try To Force Anybody

      Microchip, STM, NXP and various others have their market share largely because of the extra bits they tack on to the core. If you're buying these sorts of chips you are picking them for the IO and really don't put too much weight on what CPU architecture it is. (as long as it is fast enough) Each manufacturer has some IO block that makes their chips special to an application. Arm will find it hard to compete as their portfolio would have to be HUGE. STM have carved out a heck of a niche for themselves with their various speciality IO blocks.

      The people buying these chips also like low prices.

      From a developer POV the move from 8-bit cores like AVR, PIC, 8031/51 (still an ungodly number of chips running that core!!) to a much faster 32-bit core in pretty much the same power footprint has been a godsend. But TBH I don't care if its Arm of whatever so long as there is a good compiler and it works.

      I've just noticed that Espressif has moved from Xtensa to RISC-V for the new generation ESP32 chips, which will be interesting!

  7. fg_swe Bronze badge

    Silicon As A Service

    I can see a huge market in web-based services which allow engineers to drag and drop ready-made silicon components into their design, simulate the design, enter a credit card number and have a fab such as TSMC or GF produce the System On Chip for them. Get the SOC back in a matter of weeks for lab verification.

    Today these components are soldered onto a PCB. Soldering itself is stressful to all components and the soldering joints are prone to fail on the long run of temperature cycles.

  8. DS999 Silver badge

    Apple took steps to avoid any interference from ARM

    It was recently reported that their architectural license agreement was extended into the 2040s. They either knew which way the wind was blowing at ARM or at least felt it was prudent to hedge their bets.

    I still think ARM's ability to extract more revenue is limited, because RISC-V (along with existing architectures like MIPS or POWER) provide an escape valve if ARM tries to squeeze too tightly. I don't see any way they can justify the ridiculous valuations at IPO.

  9. pimppetgaeghsr

    Price seems to be going the wrong way.

    1. 3arn0wl


      I guess this is the market setting the value. It seems there's been some realisation about the threat of the China situation and of RISC-V... Which begs the question : do investors not do any homework before taking their gamble?

  10. Sil

    If the success in Linux in the server market and other markets is any indication, RISC-V could crush ARM within perhaps a decade or two. And maybe quite faster.

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