Processor designer


ARM might be the biggest unheralded success story of the British technology industry.

A product of the Silicon Fen in Cambridge, the UK’s equivalent of the Silicon Valley, its processors power the majority of the world’s smartphones, including the iPhone and anything emblazoned with a Nokia, Samsung or Sony Ericsson badge. As if that wasn’t enough, they also pop up in Nintendo DSes, inkjet printers, antilock brakes and hard drives – in fact, look hard enough, and you’re almost certain to find at least one ARM processor lurking somewhere in your home.

“The reason we’ve been really successful is that we started the company at the right time, with the right business model, and a really big gob of good luck,” said Mike Muller, ARM’s chief technology officer and one of its founders. “Everyone needs luck, there’s no point denying it. At the time we started, the semiconductor industry was going through a change, with lots of functions being integrated into single chips, and we had the bit that some of the players were missing.”

He adds: “We had this business model that was different from anything anybody had done before. In the past, if you had a processor you sold silicon, but then we came along and said, it’s okay, we don’t actually sell chips, what we sell is the design of the processor and we’ll sell that design to lots of different people, so you’re not locked into a supplier.”

But surely the company would have been more profitable selling silicon? “It’s one of the things we hear a lot: wouldn’t you prefer to sell the chip and make dollars on every chip, rather than the five or ten cents you get as a royalty?” says Muller. “But if we’d done that we wouldn’t have sold the 2.9 billion chips we sold last year, because we’d have chosen a slice of the market and that’s all we’d have ever had.”

Next: 3. VeryPC

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