10-04-2021 | | By Robin Mitchell
Recently, ARM Holdings announced the development of ARM V9, the next generation in the ARM series. Where is ARM being used, and what will ARM V9 integrate?
The initial development of the ARM core came about in 1983 with two employees of Acorn Computers; Steve Furber and Roger Wilson (now Sophie Wilson). The initial concept of the ARM processor was to develop a processor that would reduce the number of instructions while making the instruction set architecture incredibly optimised. This would create a processor that is simplistic in programming, would use less power, and simpler to integrate into designs.
The development of this concept eventually materialised into the ARM1, and in this instance, Acorn Computers created the Acorn RISC Machine. This would demonstrate how companies could be fabless and outsource the development of semiconductors instead of having to create those devices themselves or use off-the-shelf parts.
Eventually, ARM (and RISC in general) would go on to prove that the best processor architecture for mobile and battery-operated designs would be RISC. While CISC may be able to provide higher MIPS, the significant power consumption (as a result of the complex circuitry) would make it unusable on a portable device, and most portable devices have lower computational requirements than large computing systems.
ARM has now found its way into microcontrollers, SoCs, and even microcomputing systems such as the Raspberry Pi. However, while ARM never intended to compete with mainstream processors, companies such as Apple are in fact now turning to ARM as their processor technology. While there are many reasons as to why an ARM system may be favourable to an Intel system, the simpler nature of the CPU architecture allows for more cores to be integrated onto a single chip, and the smaller CPU size allows for more specific hardware to be integrated (such as AI engines and cryptographic cores).
ARM clearly did not anticipate the sudden expansion of their architecture into almost all applications, and their last version, V8, was released in 2011. The year is 2021, and the electronics market has had some massive changes including application and needs.
As such, ARM has recognised the many trends and changes, and has now announced that ARM V9 will address these new areas of application. To start, ARM has identified that AI will become a critical component in modern devices. Therefore, ARM V9 will explore techniques and hardware that will help to accelerate AI applications including matrix multiplication which is an essential operation for AI algorithms.
Security is another area of concern for modern electronics with the mass integration of internet connectivity, use of sensory devices, and the sheer number of devices available to hackers. Therefore, ARM will be introducing the Arm Confidential Compute Architecture which will build on ARM TrustZone to allow key data (such as bank pin and passwords) to be completely separated from any other running process. This will help to prevent malware from infecting one application and gaining access to the data of another running process.
Vectors are another area of attack for ARM V9. Vectors (which are one-dimensional arrays), are highly ideal for creating energy-efficient processes. As such, the bigger a single vector can be, the more that can be done in a single operation. Therefore, ARM V9 will look to increase the length of vectors from 128 bits to 2048 bits. Therefore, large amounts of parallel computing can be done which allows for more data to be processed per cycle.
The next generation of ARM cores will provide engineers a whole new paradigm of programming and allow them to more easily integrate modern technologies. Of course, microcontrollers and other computing platforms may take a while to integrate these new features, but many applications such as self-driving vehicles and smart devices will highly benefit from the new ARM V9 architecture.