PiRanger
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Are ARM based computers the future?

Wed Feb 26, 2014 11:08 pm

I've been reading a few articles where the authors state that they believe that ARM based computers are the future. What do people here think? Are we going to see an influx of more powerful ARM based mini-computers, or will we be seeing major ARM based computers on the desktop taking over?

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Re: Are ARM based computers the future?

Wed Feb 26, 2014 11:28 pm

Me, personally, yes I think it could be true. I believe that an ARM chip can do more with less transistors (thus energy consumption and chip size, thus ultimately cost) than other CPU architectures now in use. It also doesn't carry need to support a lot of legacy "mistakes" in computer architecture, like other systems do. Again reducing cost and increasing systems flexibility. There is also a mass of knowledge about it, and modern ARM chips are nearing a performance platform that makes them useful for tasks that until now were the sole domain of the x86 architecture.

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Re: Are ARM based computers the future?

Thu Feb 27, 2014 12:41 am

It's interesting to watch progress here.

On the one hand ARMs have been steadily growing up performance wise over the years and we have 64bit ARM on the horizon. So far targeted at server applications but I'm sure they will find their way into "PC class machines". I certainly hope so.

On the other hand Intel is trying to get x86 into smaller devices, tablets and phones etc. And making some progress.

Some ague that as ARM grows up it loses it's power saving advantage. After all scaling up to 64 bits and adding "go faster goodies" requires a lot of transistors.

Others argue that Intel has a silicon process advantage over other fabs that will see it ahead in performance machines for a long while to come.

Being a Brit I'm rooting for ARM of course! Never mind that it's probably better to not have to rely on a single supplier for your computing needs forever.

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Re: Are ARM based computers the future?

Thu Feb 27, 2014 12:44 am

PiRanger wrote:I've been reading a few articles where the authors state that they believe that ARM based computers are the future.
People are so silly. ARM is here now. We don't have to wait for the future.
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Re: Are ARM based computers the future?

Thu Feb 27, 2014 1:19 am

"Silly" is putting it a bit strongly.

Certainly for many things people want to do ARM can already do it. Hence the massive sale of smart phones and tablets and my imminent purchase of an ARM cased ChromeBook. I'm also eyeing things like the CubieTruck.

On the other hand waiting 20 hours for compilations to complete does not compete with the few minutes it can take on a modern PC.

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Re: Are ARM based computers the future?

Thu Feb 27, 2014 2:49 am

Heater wrote:"Silly" is putting it a bit strongly.
I was putting it as mildly as I could.
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Re: Are ARM based computers the future?

Thu Feb 27, 2014 5:59 am

I'm the minority in the user base where I need great performance and lots of ram. I don't own a system with under 16GB. But my response is... " I hope so." I think arm is far more competitive than intel or amd on the price/performance front. Intel in particular I think abuses their market position (and yes I still buy their stuff). If arm had something with at least core i5 level performance I wouldn't even think twice to switch. I hope Valve kills it with a dedicated gaming Linux OS at some point and ARM is there to sweeten the deal. Then I could toss intel and ms in the trash at the same time.

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Re: Are ARM based computers the future?

Thu Feb 27, 2014 8:17 am

I think ARM based Linux computers are the future -- and it starts right now in the presence.

But the hardware itself if only one part, and the software and support of the manufacturer need to be there, too. This combination is great on the Pi. It proves with ~2 million users that Linux on the ARM is a mature OS also for a wider audience.

Also more and more people, counties and countries are fed up with the Wintel cartel, and are already replacing their Windows installation with Linux installations; for example the big city Munich in Southern Germany just succeded to replace during the last few years their 15.000 Windows installations with Linux, and so are freed of the mentioned cartel and serve as a prototype for similar cases all around the world. (And didn't the British government just recently decide to kick MS Office and use Apache Openoffice instead?)
The increasingly pressing financial crisis makes such decisions even simpler, as do Mr. Snowden's NSA papers. Also Valve's Steam-Box could help in some aspect, like Jessie mentioned.

And once Linux runs there in your IT infrastructure, you could start to replace older x86 machines with ARM (mini-) computers, step by step.
Last edited by Fidelius on Thu Feb 27, 2014 9:38 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Are ARM based computers the future?

Thu Feb 27, 2014 9:00 am

Already happened in mobile and tablets,
which are computers themselves.

Most phones, tablets and games consoles are now ARM based.

ARM based laptops and desktops are a bit thin on the ground - just ARM chromebooks and SurfaceRT
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Re: Are ARM based computers the future?

Thu Feb 27, 2014 9:23 am

Fidelius,
Allwinner's new 8 core board looks interesting
Allwinner do not yet have an 8 core ARM. Their devices are Quadcore Cortex A7.
It does however have 8 GPU cores.
http://www.allwinnertech.com/en/product/A31.html

Richard-TX,
I was putting it as mildly as I could.
You mean "really, really silly" then :)

You have not explained why though.

Currently if you want a nice quick machine you go to the local PC store and get one. It will be Intel based. ARM is not an option except for some dinky Chrome book. In that way the "ARM future" is exactly that, in the future, possibly.

The few of us who follow such things might be ordering Cubie Trucks and the like to get a little step ahead in that future: http://cubieboard.org/

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Re: Are ARM based computers the future?

Thu Feb 27, 2014 9:36 am

Heater wrote:Fidelius [..] Allwinner do not yet have an 8 core ARM. Their devices are Quadcore Cortex A7. It does however have 8 GPU cores.
Thanks for the correction, and so I'm going to remove the mention of it in my previous article.

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Re: Are ARM based computers the future?

Thu Feb 27, 2014 9:40 am

Heater wrote:Fidelius,
Allwinner's new 8 core board looks interesting
Allwinner do not yet have an 8 core ARM. Their devices are Quadcore Cortex A7.
It does however have 8 GPU cores.
http://www.allwinnertech.com/en/product/A31.html
Always funny when people core compare. Perhaps worthwhile on ARM cores, but not on GPU cores. The VC4 has 10 processor cores for example (IIRC), plus a hat load of extra HW blocks for particular purposes. And that is a 6 year old design!
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Re: Are ARM based computers the future?

Thu Feb 27, 2014 9:57 am

When I brought my Acorn Archimedes 410 many years ago, for Integer performance it ran rings round an IBM PS/2 with Intel 286 chip, but that is not the situation now.

Clearly Intel put a lot of effort into Chip development and my CubieBoard 2 whos' A7 processors are about twice as powerful as the Pi,( plus there are two cores so about 4 times a Pi) Is still a long way behind my desktop which is old only running an Intel Core 2 - 2.3Ghz and not the latest i5 or i7 which are even quicker.

When BOINC starts up it does a quick benchmark

Code: Select all

                         Pi                  CubieBoard 2           Core 2
Integer           237.29                 456.92                  2049.3
FP                 955.12                1718.00                  5868.06
ARM has the advantage when it comes to low power, but in raw compute speed it is a long way behind.

IBM has a RISC based chip known as PowerPC that tries to compete with Intel's but there was not enough of an advantage to stop Apple switching to Intel for their Macs.

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Re: Are ARM based computers the future?

Thu Feb 27, 2014 11:30 am

A lot of it is down to caching - Intel (and AMD) chips have a LOT of on board cache compared with ARM devices. And that takes power and die space - hence the higher costs of the parts.
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Re: Are ARM based computers the future?

Thu Feb 27, 2014 1:41 pm

KeithSloan,

Given your BOINC figures I'd say the Cubie is doing very well. About one quarter integer and float speed. Given that it's a lot smaller and less power hungry that sounds very good.

Jamesh,
A lot of it is down to caching...
Yep, all those millions of transistors used for caches, pipelines, multiple ALU's and FPU's work magic for Intel.

Which makes me wonder: It is often said that Intel chips are bloated and power hungry because they have to support the old x86 CISC instruction sets even if they are more streamlined internally. But it seems to me that compared to all the caches, pipelines etc that a modern chip needs to get speed the silicon dedicated to x86 support must be negligible now.

Which then poses the question: If ARM's start sporting such caches and pipelines and 64 bit ALU's etc will they lose there power saving advantage?

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Re: Are ARM based computers the future?

Thu Feb 27, 2014 2:04 pm

I'm no HW engineer, but I think the x86 instruction set is thirsty anyway, and I do wonder whether you need more power hungry caches to drive it than you might for the 'designed to be low power' ARM systems. And of course, the area of chip required for the ARM core is really tiny compared with X86, so you do have the opportunity to use spare space for cache anyway.

But yes, more cache will increase power requirement, die size and cost. But of course, everything is getting smaller anyway...
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Re: Are ARM based computers the future?

Thu Feb 27, 2014 8:03 pm

This CISC vs. RISC doesn't have much to do with the power consumption. RISC is hardwired controlled where CISC use microcode to implement the more complex instruction set. So CISC is kind of wrapper of multiple RISC instructions. Regarding power comsumption only the needed power/gate/speed is what matters. In the end all processors regardless being RISC or CISC perform the same logic operations, right?

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Re: Are ARM based computers the future?

Thu Feb 27, 2014 8:29 pm

Except that x86 is commonly regarded as CISC, at least from the point of view of the externally visible instruction set, however contrary to your statement it has microcode. Certainly their are RISC machines without microcode.

RISC/CISC became a fuzzy classification years ago so it's probably not even worth talking about now.

Yes, in the end all processors perform much the same logic operations. However, like software algorithms, there are different ways to do the same thing. Some optimized for speed, some for space, whatever. So then the question is "Does ARM know super clever optimizations to get the functionality and performance of an x86 in less transistors consuming less power?"

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Re: Are ARM based computers the future?

Thu Feb 27, 2014 8:29 pm

If power consumption was relative to transistors or active cores then surely CISC would loose out since it has more transistors and thus would require more power.
I've also been reading about MIPS being an ARM killer (probably via the register) although to be honest I don't really know much about the difference I believe RIM use it in their products.

I personally don't think ARM based computers will be the future certainly not when compaired against Intel / AMD based high performance desktop PCs.
Nevertheless ARM is here to stay and would still be power future generation DVD players, TVs, DVB-T/T2, satellite receivers, network routers, tables and mobile phones for years to come.

Richard S.

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Re: Are ARM based computers the future?

Thu Feb 27, 2014 8:38 pm

mhelin wrote:This CISC vs. RISC doesn't have much to do with the power consumption. RISC is hardwired controlled where CISC use microcode to implement the more complex instruction set. So CISC is kind of wrapper of multiple RISC instructions. Regarding power comsumption only the needed power/gate/speed is what matters. In the end all processors regardless being RISC or CISC perform the same logic operations, right?
Well, I suppose so, but its how many logic operations are required to complete an instruction that is important. CISC are more complicated and use more gates. RISC needs more program code to do the same. Swings and roundabouts. Although the distinction between the two is now quite vague.
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Re: Are ARM based computers the future?

Thu Feb 27, 2014 9:01 pm

In terms of raw clock rate we seem to have hit the wall. Speeds have not been increasing as rapidly as they did in years passed.

So, to get more performance we need to do more in parallel. More execution units, more cores etc.

But that eats transistors and power.

Whilst Intel is stuck against that wall, ARM has a chance to climb up to where they are. Perhaps in somewhat different ways that attractive to the next generation of PC class machines. Certainly for server applications, they need to save power there, hence the coming 64 bit ARMs.

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Re: Are ARM based computers the future?

Thu Feb 27, 2014 10:15 pm

Heater wrote:In terms of raw clock rate we seem to have hit the wall. Speeds have not been increasing as rapidly as they did in years passed.

So, to get more performance we need to do more in parallel. More execution units, more cores etc.

But that eats transistors and power.

Whilst Intel is stuck against that wall, ARM has a chance to climb up to where they are. Perhaps in somewhat different ways that attractive to the next generation of PC class machines. Certainly for server applications, they need to save power there, hence the coming 64 bit ARMs.


Intel is definatly not up against the wall when it comes to clockspeed. They could always add more stages to the pipe and get more clockspeed at the cost of IPC and power consumption. The problem is intel dosen't have enough competition in the desktop, server and high end laptop spaces. Someone needs to push intel and AMD isn't doing much of that anymore. Right now marketing is pushing consumers tword more cores even though single threded performance is still very relevent. Some loads are just not paralizeable.

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Re: Are ARM based computers the future?

Thu Feb 27, 2014 10:40 pm

Jessie,
Intel is definatly not up against the wall when it comes to clockspeed.
Evidence would suggest the contrary.

For decades now parallel processing has been on the horizon and explored by many. Seems that it always lost out because single processors were constantly getting faster and faster. Parallel processing was a) Harder to do, and b) Not offering such attractive, cost effective, gains as just getting a faster machine.

Some years back, about 2002, speeds stop soaring so fast and Intel turned to multiple cores. I find it hard to believe they would go to that trouble if cranking up the clocks was still the easier, or even possible, way to go.

Here is an article about this from 2007, the "speed wall" had already been noted then. http://smoothspan.wordpress.com/2007/09 ... re-crisis/. Note the flattening of the speed graph there. There are many other such analysis around the net.

Anecdotally, I'm typing this on a ten year old AMD64. It's not much slower than the new machines in my office. Plenty good enough for the work I do here.

Perhaps you are right about the competition for desktops. But it seems to me the desktop PC, or even laptop is a dead end. The consumer wants mobile, or at least small, low power. Nobody wants that big honking ugly PC box any more. Even laptops are a drag. The consumer has spoken, they have enough horsepower for what they want to do in an iPad.

Enter the tablets and ARM :)

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Re: Are ARM based computers the future?

Thu Feb 27, 2014 11:37 pm

Clocks don't define performance they are one aspect of it. There were liquid helium cooled intel Netburst P4s that hit the 8Ghz mark. Their performance even at that time was horrible. The current clockspeed record is 8.8Ghz with an AMD Richland with all but one cores disabled.

Intel focuses on mobile first for their cores these days which is why you will never see a long pipelined beast like the P4 again. They have no imaginary wall just market conditions they need to adhere to. Their customers don't want a giant heat bealtching processor these days. If intel wanted to play the Ghz war again they could. There is no benefit to it. The 2500k in my gaming rig is rated at a max of 3.7Ghz with a slightly larger than stock air cooler it has run [email protected] at 4.5Ghz for 3 years straight without problem. Proving that had intel decided to include a larger stock cooler in the box the CPU could have been rated higher out of the box with no extra engeneering effort. Why choose not to? Because why cut into profits with a larger cooler when no one has a compeeting product.

Likewise my wife's photoshop system with a 3770k is stable above 4Ghz. Intel will never be in a position to raise their clock frequency. Its all about IPC and core count these days.

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Re: Are ARM based computers the future?

Fri Feb 28, 2014 3:12 am

Just as PowerPC faded away x86 will too. ARM will soon have its turn to dominate the market. I hope the ARM phase will last for a while.

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