Some people, especially those keeping tabs on the tech world, might be more familiar with chips under names like Qualcomm Snapdragon, Samsung Exynos, Huawei HiSilicon Kirin, or the newest kid on the block, Apple Silicon M1. Underlying all those, however, is the Arm (formerly ARM) computing architecture, a.k.a. CPU instruction set, that practically runs all of the world’s mobile phones, many embedded computers like those in IoT and networking products, and quite a few supercomputers. The latest Arm version, Armv8 (ARMv8), has been around for nearly a decade but now the company has announced its successor that, thanks to recent trends in the market, is putting a bigger focus on security, AI, and what it calls specialized computing.
The UK-based Arm, now under the ownership of Japan’s SoftBank Group, doesn’t make its own processors. It instead licenses designs and IP to the likes of Qualcomm and Apple who then make actual chips for use. Regardless of that business model, the designs specified by each Arm architecture generation practically determine what those processors will ultimately be capable of.
In terms of technical details, Arm v9 might not be as revolutionary as the v8 compared to their respective predecessors. Arm is instead focusing on the applications that this new architecture will be used for which, in turn, has been informed by where Arm is already being used these days anyway. Beyond phones, smart appliances, and the like, Arm-based processors are becoming increasingly popular in the fields of machine learning and high-performance computing.
Instead of general-purpose computing, like what we’re used to with PCs and phones, Arm is putting a heavier emphasis on applications that require more specialized solutions, like the voice and image recognition that’s used for AI-enabled assistants. Of course, AI and machine learning are big topics in the industry these days, even going beyond tech circles. Interestingly, the Arm v9’s performance upgrade was partly in thanks to the work done on Fujitsu’s Fugaku, the world’s fastest supercomputer that, as you might have guessed, is Arm-based.
With Arm’s increased use in all parts of digital life, there’s also an even bigger need for security. Arm’s new Confidential Compute Architecture (CCA) also introduces the concept of dynamically-created Realms that can run outside of both secure and non-secure software. This would appeal to commercial customers that need to protect sensitive data and code in all states and at all times.