The UK's largest remaining IT company, Cambridge-based ARM Holdings, is not used to the limelight.
It quietly makes relatively modest profits by designing reference architectures for the billions of processors that power up to 95 per cent of the world's mobile phones and a host of other consumer electronic devices, including Apple iPads. The company's pre-tax profits for the nine months to 30 September 2011 reached £161m based on revenue of £354m, while profit for the whole year in 2010 was £168m.
ARM is plotting the next stage in its growth with the launch of the ARMv8 reference architecture, its first 64-bit CPU design, which ARM's marketing department and early vendor soundings suggest will eventually find its way into not only desktop PCs and servers, but even supercomputers.
"The new ARMv8 architecture will expand the reach of ARM processor-based solutions into consumer and enterprise applications where extended virtual addressing and 64-bit data processing are required," said the company in a statement.
So far, ARM's success has been largely down to the energy-efficiency of its designs, which obviously appeals to makers of mobile devices. In May this year, research firm IDC forecast that processors based on the ARM architecture would make up more than 15 per cent of the PC chip market by 2015, although those forecasts did not include tablet PCs where the company's designs have already gained considerable traction.
The next version of Microsoft Windows will support ARM technology, for example, while silicon manufacturer NVIDIA is partnering with the company to develop new system on a chip (SoC) processors, alongside Qualcomm and Texas Instuments.
"This consolidation [within SoCs] enables smaller, thinner devices while reducing the amount of power required for the device, increasing battery life and making possible always-on and always-connected functionality," said Microsoft.
ARM doesn't make silicon components itself, rather its 1,700 staff provide the engineering nous and intellectual property (IP) that other manufacturers use to produce chips of their own.
ARM receives an upfront licence fee for the original IP and royalty on every CPU or wafer produced thereafter.