A processor, or microprocessor, is a small chip that resides in computers and other electronic devices. One of the most common and well-known processor types is the central processing unit (CPU), also called the main processor, responsible for processing and executing instructions in notebooks, desktops, and servers. The CPU is contained on a single silicon-based metal-oxide-semiconductor (MOS) integrated circuit (IC) chip, with Intel and AMD as the leading CPU vendors globally. In addition to CPUs, several specialized processing devices have followed, including application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs), graphics processing units (GPUs), and the system-on-chip (SoC).
Graphics processing unit (GPU)
The GPU, also called a graphics card, is a silicon-based microprocessor that specializes in accelerating the creation and rendering of images, videos, and animations. Key GPU players include Nvidia and AMD, producing dedicated GPUs that can perform fast calculations while freeing the CPU to perform other tasks. Intel is similarly strong in the GPU space, developing integrated graphics that are built onto the same chip as the CPU, as well as having plans for a dedicated GPU for release in 2022. GPUs began as specialized ASICs, developed to accelerate specific 3D rendering tasks. Today, GPUs have evolved to become more general-purpose processors, working in parallel to other computer components to handle a growing range of applications, notably artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) tasks, as well as for crypto mining activities.
Application processor (AP)/system-on-chip (SoC)
An SoC is an integrated circuit that combines all the functions of a computer on one IC or a microchip. An SoC will typically integrate the CPU, GPU, and memory, and are commonly found in smartphones, tablets, wearables, and other IoT devices. As an SoC integrates software at the hardware level, it uses less power, has better performance, and requires less space due to very large-scale integration (VLSI) - hence its popularity within modern-day smartphones. A mobile AP is an SoC designed to support applications running in a mobile operating system environment. Examples include the Qualcomm Snapdragon found in Android devices, and the Apple A15 Bionic chip found in the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Pro, with both SoCs using Arm’s processor architecture.
Arm processor architecture
Arm, also recognized in the industry as ARM or Arm Holdings, is a semiconductor and software design company with its global headquarters in Cambridge, UK. The company, which was acquired by the Japanese conglomerate SoftBank Group in 2016, is best known for its computer processor architecture. Arm develops the architecture and licenses it to other companies, who then use the design to create microcontrollers (MCUs), CPUs, ASICs, and SoCs. Most well-known for its mobile AP technologies, Arm is looking to strengthen its position in the networking equipment, data center, cloud, and IoT device markets.
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