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Thursday, March 15, 2012

Introducing The World’s Most Energy-Efficient Microprocessor

News of a world first in the realm of computer microprocessors was announced on March 13th, along with hopes that it will become widely used in a large variety of different devices. A company called ARM Holdings, based in Cambridge, UK, released information about its latest offering to the computer world, and suggested that the new microprocessor would lead to an era dubbed the ‘Intent of Things.’

The ARM Cortex-M0+ processor certainly has the potential to shake things up in the microprocessor market, and during its development the two aspects that were top on the agenda were keeping the cost low, and the power it needs to operate minimal. ARM Holdings believes that now they have reached a milestone in microprocessor technology, so that everyday items can be fitted with a chip, things like lighting, motor cars, home appliances, and much more. The chip could even help to manage your finances if it becomes used in credit cards.

The ‘Internet of Things’

The ‘Internet of Things’ is a term that was first used by a man called Kevin Ashton, back in 1999. The concept behind this term is a fairly simple to comprehend. Imagine if everything object was equipped with a unique identification tag, similar to a barcode for example. Barcodes have become more advanced, but traditionally they were used to store product info, and speed things up at the supermarket-checkout. If everything was tagged, and could be tracked using a radio frequency, computers could build a database of all things. Now the ‘Internet of Things’ can, theoretically anyway, be achieved using tiny microprocessors. These devices can communicate and interact, adjust to variables, and be identified by computers.

Some uses that have already been suggested for the new ARM Cortex-M0+ processor don’t quite fit into this concept, but offer some insight into what these powerful processors are capable of. On example is that wine corks could have a processor chip built into them, so that they can notify the owners of the bottle when it is the best time to drink the wine. It could even be programmed to send an urgent alert to the owner if the bottle of wine was opened without the owner’s consent. The new processors powerful abilities, and its undeniable energy-efficiency, make it a piece of equipment with a vast amount of possibilities. There have already been predictions that up to 60 billion devices will be connected by as early as 2020.

Getting technical

For all of you that what to know the ins-and outs of this landmark microprocessor, here are some technical specifications. The Cortex-M0+ is a 32-bit processor, which uses 9µA/MHz to keep it powered. In comparison to the variety of 8-bit and 16-bit processors available today, the Cortex-M0+ consumes roughly one third of the energy these lower performance processor use. It measures just 1mm by 1mm and uses tiny in-built batteries as its power source, which ARM claim will last for a number of years on a single charge. Possibly the most interesting fact about this new microprocessor, is that it will be sold for less than 20 pence, making it accessible to a wide range of manufacturers. It is expected that the microprocessor will sell in job lots of thousands, and even millions, creating large revenues for ARM Holdings.

What industry experts have to say

ARM holdings are confident that the new microprocessor will be a success. Mike Inglis, a spokesperson for ARM Holdings, declared that, "With our expertise in low-power technology, we have worked closely with our Partners on the definition of the new processor to ensure that it can enable the low-cost devices of today, while also unlocking the potential benefits delivered by the Internet of Things."

Even independent analysts are marking the advent of the new microprocessor as a game changer. Tom Halfhill, an analyst that works for The Linley Group, believes the number of different ways the Cortex-M0+ will be used could be vast. He explained that, "Ubiquitous network connectivity is useful for almost everything - from adaptive room lighting and online video gaming to smart sensors and motor control. But it requires extremely low-cost, low-power processors that still can deliver good performance. The ARM Cortex-M0+ processor brings 32-bit horsepower to flyweight chips, and it will be suitable for a broad range of industrial and consumer applications."

Only time will tell if the new Cortex-M0+ processor will bring about the ‘Internet of Things,’ but it certainly seems like it has the capabilities to do so.

Amy Westrock loves new technology. The idea that one day her fridge will tell her the milk has gone off and her bank card will vibrate a warning if it needs her to move money into the account are the things she dreams about.
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