Think Twice Before Choosing ARM

August 12th, 2013 by

By Bernhard Hartmann
Sales Manager, Central Europe

The ARM architecture has gotten considerable attention in trade publications recently and it is true that many chip manufacturers have signed license agreements to use it.

Not as much attention, however, is given to a number of important factors that may lead OEMs and machine builders – particularly in Industrial Automation – to think twice about selecting ARM even though its relatively low cost is initially attractive.

Chip manufacturers design proprietary ARM-based chips, and once you select a chip you’re pretty much locked in. The manufacturers’ on-chip-peripherals are unique and what you wind up with is an ARM, but at the same time not an ARM.

Yes, the basic instruction sets might be the same, and yes you can find companies claiming to support more than 2000 ARM derivatives with their development tools. However, the support is mainly related to compilers and not the functionality of the on-chip peripheral blocks.

And even if you decide to go with a dedicated, pre-manufactured ARM board, you are not any better off.

You’ll be on your own, facing many unanticipated challenges – new instruction set, new hardware, etc.  If you do get “support” from your board supplier, your success becomes dependent on the board supplier’s software expertise, which is not his core business. Not a good position to be in.

Additionally, you can never be sure the selected chip/board will be available in four or more years, which is a must in Industrial Automation.

So, what’s the alternative?

The x86 architecture (Intel, AMD and other suppliers), with its very long lifecycle and backward compatibility of code, along with the continually evolving Microsoft Windows OS offer significant advantages.

You won’t have to learn a new architecture and both the non real-time and real- time (i.e. Windows with IntervalZero RTX) elements are developed in a single development environment – Visual Studio. The HMI is world class.

What about ARM’s low power? According to Intel, the new Haswell and Silvermont chips offer more performance with less power than ARM.

Under scrutiny ARM is very often not the best choice for Industrial Automation markets.

Rather, x86 with Microsoft Windows, Visual Studio and, if real-time is needed, RTX, is the way to go for the high-performance, stable long-lifecycle systems required in Industrial Automation.

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