ARM initially stood for “Acorn RISC Machine” when it was first conceived in the early 1980s, but became “Advanced RISC Machine” in 1990 when it was spun off into its own company. RISC stands for “reduced instruction set chip,” which describes the design philosophy behind this particular type of chip. ARM processors aren’t designed to be the fastest or the most powerful at any given time. Instead, they’re meant to deliver high performance with low power consumption at a low price point.
ARM is a company that manufactures processors to power electronic devices, such as computers. The ARM acronym has changed meaning over the years, although it’s always been used to designate a specific family of computer chips.
Acorn Computers, Ltd. of the U.K. developed the BBC Microcomputer in 1982, which was based on the company Rockwell’s 6502 processor. This is the same processor that powered the Apple II computer in the U.S. Acorn had specific computing power requirements in mind. The company dismissed all commercially-available 16 and 32-bit processor options at the time. The company developed the first ARM processor in-house in 1985. The first home computer that came with an ARM processor was the Archimedes, released in 1987. It used its own operating system, also called Archimedes. Acorn and another company, VLSI Technology Inc., continued developing ARM chips that were licensed by other companies. In 1990, the company ARM Ltd. was founded by Acorn, VLSI and Apple. This is also when the underlying meaning for the “ARM” acronym changed, since the chip no longer solely belonged to Acorn.
Decoding ARM Chip Numbers
Like most manufacturers of hardware and software, Acorn and ARM Ltd. both assigned different numbers to different iterations of ARM chips. The first three chips developed by Acorn were designated as ARM1, ARM2 and ARM3. After ARM Ltd. was founded, the new company revised the way it numbered its chips. The ARM processor by itself, with minimum necessary amounts of test circuitry included, has a two-digit designation such as ARM60. If the processor is slightly more complex and integrates more than one ARM chip with some custom logic for a customer, it gets a 3 digit code such as ARM610.
ARM processors hit a sweet spot in optimizing performance and low cost for electronics manufacturers. Additionally, their small die size makes them less expensive to mass-produce. These chips can be found in TVs, smartphones, computers, PDAs, tablets, e-book readers and games. ARM’s CEO estimated the company to sell around four billion ARM chips to licensees each year.