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Exciting Days for ARM Processors

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Introduction

ARM CPUs have long dominated the mobile world, nearly all Apple and Android phones and tablets utilize some model of ARM processor. However Intel and AMD still dominate the laptop, desktop, server and supercomputer markets. This week we saw a number of announcements where this will likely change:

  1. Apple announced they are going to transition all Mac computers to the ARM processor over two years.
  2. Ampere announced a 128-core server ARM processor.
  3. Japan now has the world’s most powerful supercomputer and it is based on 158,976 ARM Processors.

In this blog post, we’ll look at some of the consequences of these moves.

Apple Macs Move to ARM

The big announcement at this year’s Apple WorldWide Developers Conference is that Apple will be phasing out Intel processors in their Mac desktop and laptop computers. You wouldn’t know they are switching to ARM processors from all their marketing speak, which exclusively talks about the switch from Intel to Apple Silicon. But the heart of Apple Silicon are ARM CPU cores. The name Apple Silicon refers to the System on a Chip (SoC) that they are building around the ARM processors. These SoCs will include a number of ARM cores, a GPU, an AI processor, memory manager and other support functions.

Developers can pay $500 to get an iMac mini running the same ARM CPU as the latest iPad Pro, the downside is that you need to give this hardware back when the real systems ship at the end of this year. It is impressive that you can get a working ARM Mac running MacOS along with a lot of software already including the XCode development system. One cool feature is that you can run any iPad or iPhone app on your Mac, now that all Apple devices share the same CPU.

The new version of MacOS for ARM (or Apple Silicon) will run Intel compiled programs in an emulator, but the hope from Apple is that developers will recompile their programs for ARM fairly quickly, so this won’t be needed much. The emulation has some limitations, in that it doesn’t support Intel AVX SIMD instructions or instructions related to virtualization.

For developers converting their applications, if they have Assembly Language code, this will have to be converted from Intel Assembly to ARM Assembly and of course a great resource to do this is my book:

I’m excited to see what these new models of ARM based Apple computers look like. We should see them announced as we approach the Christmas shopping season. Incorporating all the circuitry onto a single chip will make these new computers even slimmer, lighter and more compact. Battery life should be far longer but still with great performance.

I think Apple should be thanking the Raspberry Pi world for showing what you can do with SoCs, and for driving so much software to already be ported to the ARM processor.

One possible downside of the new Macs, is that Apple keeps talking about the new secure boot feature only allowing Apple signed operating systems to boot as a security feature. Does this mean we won’t be able to run Linux on these new Macs, except using virtualization? This will be a big downside, especially down the road when Apple drops support for them. Apple makes great hardware that keeps on working long after Apple no longer supports it. You can get a lot of extra life out of your Apple hardware by installing Linux and keeping on trucking with new updates.

New Ampere Server ARM Chips

Intel and AMD have long dominated the server and data center markets, but that is beginning to change. Amazon has been designing their own ARM chips for AWS and Ampere has been providing extremely powerful ARM based server chips for everyone else. Last year they announced an 80-core ARM based server chip which is now in production. Just this week they announced the next generation which is a 128-core ARM server chip.

If you aren’t interested in a server, but would like a workstation containing one of these chips then you could consider a computer from Avantek such as this one.

These are just one of several powerful ARM based server chips coming to market. It will be interesting to see if there is a lot of uptake of ARM in this space.

Japan’s Fugaku ARM Based Supercomputer is Number One

Japan just took the number one spot in the list of the world’s most powerful supercomputers. The Fugaku supercomputer is located in Kobe and uses 158,976 Fujitsu 48-core ARM SoCs. Of course this computer runs Linux and currently is being used to solve protein folding problems around developing a cure for COVID-19, similar to folding@home. This is a truly impressive warehouse of technology and shows where you can go with the ARM CPU and the open source Linux operating system.

Summary

ARM conquered the mobile world some years ago, and now it looks like ARM is ready to take on the rest of the computer industry. Expect to see more ARM based desktop and laptop computers than just Macs. Only time will tell whether this is a true threat to Intel and AMD, but the advantage ARM has over previous attempts to unseat Intel as king is that they already have more volume production than Intel and AMD combined. The Intel world has stagnated in recent years, and I look forward to seeing the CPU market jump ahead again.

Written by smist08

June 24, 2020 at 11:28 am

9 Responses

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  1. […] Last time, we talked about a number of ARM’s recent successes. This time we’ll discuss a few of the consequences for the rest of the industry. Many people are discussing the effect on Intel and AMD, but probably a bigger victim of the ARM steamroller is RISC-V, the open source processor. […]

  2. Hello,

    Secure Boot can be unlocked on the Arm macs via csrutil(1) in the recovery OS.

    You might also have missed the ThunderX3 (Arm-based server platform with 96 cores/384 threads on a single socket…and dual-socket being possible too).

    never_released

    July 6, 2020 at 6:15 pm

  3. Just a heads up, you have some pretty crazy ads showing up on your blog: https://cln.sh/xVBJme

    I know that’s not on you, but you may want to reconsider the ad providers on your site, as they’re pretty distracting.

    Jimmy

    July 6, 2020 at 6:53 pm

  4. […] el artículo Exciting days for ARM processors se citan otros casos de éxito: los ordenadores Apple y el actual (Junio 2020) campeón del Top […]

  5. […] CPU that can execute programs independently. AMD has 64-core threadripper CPUs, there are now 128-core ARM CPUs and Intel can go as high as 18 cores. In this article we’ll look at some of the […]

  6. […] Previously, we blogged about a number of successes in the ARM world: being adopted for the next generation Macs, moving into the server and supercomputer markets and of course continuing to dominate the mobile world. ARM is owned by the Japanese conglomerate holding company Softbank. ARM is Softbank’s big success, balanced with a number of major failures such as WeWork. With ARM’s current success, Softbank is considering whether this is a good time to sell off ARM at a big profit. […]

  7. […] recently announced they were transitioning their line of Mac computers from using Intel CPUs to what they announced as […]

  8. […] Exciting Days for ARM Processors – One of the biggest announcements of the year is that Apple will be switching from Intel processors to what they call “Apple Silicon” on their computers. These processors are ARM-based CPUs, but this isn’t the only good news for ARM fans, this post talks a little about this move from Apple and other two big news. […]


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