Friday, November 27, 2015

The Visual ARM1

Today is the 25th anniversary of ARM Ltd., UK.  To celebrate and honor their amazing work, we present the Visual ARM1,  created in collaboration with some of ARM's founding engineers.

Designed by Sophie Wilson and Steve Furber before there was an ARM Ltd., the Acorn RISC Machine was the first of a line of processors that power our cell phones and tablets today.  Unlike our projects based on microscope images, the Visual ARM was created from a resurrected .cif chip layout file, used under our license agreement with ARM.  We also photographed one of the few ARM1 chips at very high resolution, and our photograph is featured at the Centre for Computing History in Cambridge.

Credit goes to ARM founding engineers John Biggs for inspiring the project, discovering the tape, and recovering a usable .cif file, Lee Smith for spotting the variable record format used to encode the file (an artifact of the VMS on Acorn's VAX that at first appeared to be widespread corruption of the file), to Cambridge University Computing Services for reading the Exabyte tape, and to ARM founder Dave Howard for help unraveling the VLSI CIF dialect.  Our chip simulation and visualization was developed by Barry Silverman, Brian Silverman, Ed Spittles, and Greg James.

Information Age:  The Microchip that Changed Our World
Unsung Heros of Tech:  ARM Creators Sophie Wilson and Steve Furber
Meet ARM1, Grandfather of Today's Mobile, Tablet CPUs
Wikipedia: ARM Architecture
Brief history and technical details