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Three Reasons to Pay Attention to Arm Processors

March 06, 2018 | BY: Mike Slonosky

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Advanced RISC Machine (Arm) processors are well known for bringing incredibly high performance to the most advanced smartphones and mobile devices available. The exploding market for commercial mobile devices has pushed chip designers to come up with ever-faster, ever-smaller processors that are less power-hungry than competing options, yet still deliver secure, high-integrity computing. This is an ideal combination for defense, aerospace, and rugged embedded applications.

Here are three reasons why Arm processors are an impressive technology for defense systems and modules, such as single board computers (SBCs).

1. Unparalleled High Performance

Arm technology is based on reduced instruction set computing (RISC), a simplified instruction set architecture that requires fewer microprocessor cycles per instruction and fewer transistors than processors that are based on complex instruction set computing (CISC). Due to the way that Arm implements the instruction set, Arm-based processors can deliver a combination of capabilities that CISC-based processors, and even other RISC-based processors, cannot match.

Numerous extensions that enhance Arm performance are also available, such as Arm NEON technology. This advanced single instruction, multiple data (SIMD) extension accelerates audio and video encoding and decoding and 2D and 3D graphics rendering to deliver a better multimedia experience. It can also accelerate signal processing algorithms and functions to speed up applications, such as audio and video processing, voice and facial recognition, and computer vision.

Support for floating point operations means the Arm processor can be used in applications that need to deal with large data sets or data sets with unpredictable ranges, while providing high levels of computational accuracy and precision. These applications can range from powertrain, traction control, and active suspension to 3D graphics, imaging, and motion control systems.

2. Remarkably Low Power

Arm streamlines the instruction set and optimizes pathways in a way that enables Arm-based processors to deliver the best available million instructions per second (MIPS)-to-watt ratio. This means Arm processors consume significantly less power than other types of processors, while maintaining all of the necessary computing capabilities. The simplified nature of RISC also means that Arm-based processors can be produced in the extremely small physical size needed in today’s most advanced devices and systems.

Arm processors dissipate power more effectively than competing processors for a number of reasons. For example, using fewer transistors means that efficient data transfer can occur in a smaller core than is possible on CISC processors and other RISC-based processors. In addition, the legacy support needed on competing processors can require support for larger cores that consume more space, use more overall power, and dissipate more heat than Arm’s compact design.

The processors also reduce power consumption by operating at a lower clock frequency than x86 or Power Architecture processors. In addition, Arm system-on-a-chip (SoC) vendors have integrated low-power states, such as power gating and clock gating, into their processors. Arm’s lower power design lends itself nicely to SWaP-constrained applications by providing a reduced thermal solution in a low-weight processor. The end result is a package size that is ideal for SBC solutions in 3U, mezzanine, and computer-on-module (COM) form factors.

3. Confidence-Boosting Security Technology

TrustZone security technology is a key extension of Arm processors, such as the Layerscape LS1043A Arm quad-core A53 processor in Curtiss-Wright’s VPX3-1703. It enables developers to integrate flexible, system-wide security into Cortex-A processors and the latest Cortex-M processors without additional hardware. When TrustZone technology is integrated into the processor hardware, the processor can run two operating systems at the same time on a single core. One operating system is secure, or trusted, and the other not secure, or not trusted.

The trusted security subsystem is referred to as a Trusted Execution Environment (TEE). It enables developers to implement a secure world that includes trusted boot, a secure world switch monitor, a trusted operating system, and trusted applications. With this approach, developers can defend assets from software attacks and common hardware attacks by protecting the main processor components, as well as memory, software, bus transactions, interrupts, and peripherals, such as secure memory, crypto blocks, keyboards, and screens.

TrustZone technology has been used to protect high-value code and data for a diverse range of applications, including authentication, cryptography, payment, and key content protection. A protection profile that is based on an application programming interface (API) standard enables developers to deliver common security features across platforms and markets. And a security evaluation scheme is available for cases where security certification from an independent test laboratory is required.

Read more about Arm processors in our recent white paper, “A New Era for Embedded Computing: Why Arm Processors Are Ideal for Defense, Aerospace, and Rugged Embedded Applications”.

Author’s Biography

Mike Slonosky

Senior Product Manager, Power Architecture and Arm SBCs

Michael Slonosky is the Product Marketing Manager for Power Architecture Single Board Computers in the C4 Solutions group at Curtiss-Wright. He has been with Curtiss-Wright for 13 years after spending over 20 years in the telecom industry. Mike is a graduate of the University Of Manitoba with an Masters of Science in Electrical Engineering.

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