Being the most popular microprocessor architecture, Arm powers tens of billions of devices sold every year. The company says that in the fourth quarter of 2020 alone, the Arm ecosystem shipped a record 6.7 billion Arm-based chips, which works out to an amazing production rate of 842 chips per second. This means that Arm outsells all other popular CPU instruction set architectures — x86, ARC, Power, and MIPS — combined.
6.7 Billion of Arm Chips Per Quarter
Arm's Cortex-A, Cortex-R, Cortex-M, and Mali IP powers thousands of processors, controllers, microcontrollers, and graphics processing units from over 1,600 companies worldwide. As the world is rapidly going digital, demand for all types of chips is at all times high, giving a great boost to Arm given the wide variety of applications its technologies are used for.
Arm says that as many as 842 chips featuring its IP were sold every second in the fourth quarter of 2020. Meanwhile, it is noteworthy that although Arm’s Cortex-A-series general-purpose processor cores get the most attention from the media (because they are used inside virtually all smartphones shipped these days), Arm’s most widely used cores are its Cortex-M products for microcontrollers that are virtually everywhere, from thermometers to spaceships. In Q4 alone, 4.4 billion low-power Cortex-M-based microcontrollers were sold.
"The record 6.7 billion Arm-based chip shipments we saw reported last quarter is testament to the incredible innovation of our partners: from technology inside the world’s number one supercomputer down to the tiniest ultra-low power devices," said Rene Haas, president of IP Products Group at Arm. "Looking ahead, we expect to see increased adoption of Arm IP as we signed a record 175 licenses in 2020, many of those signed by first-time Arm partners."
CPU Architectures by the Numbers
At Tom's Hardware, we mostly cover PCs and therefore the vast majority of processors we talk about are based on the x86 instruction set architecture. But x86 is not even the second most popular ISA after Arm, as there are at least two unrecognized champions.
In 2020, worldwide PC shipments totaled 275 million units, according to Gartner. Shipments of x86-based servers totaled 11.75 million units in 2019. The vast majority of PCs use one x86 processor, whereas most servers come with two CPUs, so it is safe to say that these applications consume around 300+ million processors every year. When devices like game consoles, communication equipment, storage equipment, single-board computers, industrial tools, and supercomputers are added to the mix, it is still safe to say that shipments of x86 CPUs hardly exceed 350~360 million per year. Meanwhile, the absolute majority of x86 designs are high-performance processors for demanding applications.
In contrast, about 1.5 billion products based on Synopsys’ ARC processor IP are shipped every year. Yet, ARC barely receives as much attention from the media as x86 and Arm. Meanwhile, just last year Synopsys introduced its all-new DesignWare ARC HS5x and HS6x processor IP families for high-performance embedded applications, such as SSD controllers, automotive control & infotainment, wireless baseband, wireless control, and home networking.
The MIPS architecture is yet another unsung hero of the CPU and microcontroller markets. When Imagination Technologies acquired MIPS in 2012, it said that, since 2000, over 3.6 billion MIPS-based chips had been shipped. MIPS is not used for game consoles or supercomputers (and personal digital media players have died), but various microcontrollers, consumer electronics SoCs, communication equipment, and a variety of low-power devices still use the technology. Hundreds of millions of such products are sold every year, so it is safe to say that the architecture is still used widely. Yet, because MIPS is barely evolving, it cannot really make headlines.
Unlike Arm, CPU developers AMD, IBM, Intel, MIPS Technologies, Synopsys, and Via Technologies do not share their unit shipments. Meanwhile, it looks like Arm ISA outsells all the other CPU architectures combined.