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Arm's v9 chip designs set up the next decade of tech

More efficient, more powerful, and in many more kinds of devices going forward.

Arm's v9 chip designs set up the next decade of tech

New chip uses demand new chips, so Arm is expanding its lineup of options.

Photo: ARM

Self-driving cars. Ubiquitous VR headsets. Massive AI datasets. Connected cities, smart washing machines, totally automated factories. That's the tech industry of the next decade, and Arm's plan is to power all of it.

Arm introduced its new v9 architecture Tuesday, the biggest leap the company has made in its designs since 2011. It expects the first v9-powered devices to come as soon as this year. In general, v9 is meant to support a much wider range of chips and use cases, as Arm chips go from "the chips inside mobile phones" to "the chips inside, like, everything."

  • Security is v9's biggest overarching job, Arm CEO Simon Segars told me, and the new Confidential Compute Architecture and Realms are key new features. To some extent, Arm's job is just to provide a toolkit for partners to build with, but he said security is a place Arm can do more proactive work. "People do, unfortunately, cut cost corners in order to get a product out the door cheaply, and compromise security along the way."
  • Flexibility was just as important, Segars said. "The needs are just so variable" as chips become crucial parts of everything from cars to thermostats to toaster ovens. New chip uses demand new chips, so Arm is expanding its lineup of options. "Being able to pick those implementation points, whether you're doing something in a network, something in the cloud, something down on a sensor, but that's really important."

As AI becomes more a part of every layer of computing, Arm's chip designs are getting better at supporting machine learning. Segars said that can be tough, especially as low- and no-code tools let people build things at even higher layers of abstraction. Abstraction is the enemy of efficiency, of course; true believers write in 1s and 0s.

"We spent a lot of time thinking about, what needs to go into the CPU?" Segars said. "What needs to go into a dedicated processor that sits alongside the chip? What's the role of the GPU?" Arm doesn't want to dictate too much, but it also wants to make right answers easy to find.

  • Those answers change, too. For many years Arm has mostly worked with companies you'd reasonably call "tech companies." Now it's working with automakers, appliance manufacturers, network providers, heavy industry, and many others. Segars said Arm is working on bringing all those folks into the fold, and helping catch them up to the chip world.

Oh, and the chip shortage? Segars didn't seem terribly worried, at least not in the long run. "If absolutely every wafer that can be manufactured is being sold right now, that seems to me like that's the strongest the industry could be." He said long-term forecasting is still a challenge for chipmakers, and expects that the next few years will bring a boom in semiconductor and chip manufacturing. Which would likely be very good news for Arm.

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