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Processors - statistics & facts

A processor, or microprocessor, is a small chip that resides in computers and other electronic devices. One of the most common and well know processor types is the central processing unit (CPU), also called a main processor, which is responsible for processing and executing instructions in notebooks, desktops, and servers. The CPU is contained on a single 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-a-chip (SoC).

Graphics processing unit (GPU)

The GPU, also called a graphics cards processor, is a silicon-based microprocessor that specializes in accelerating the creation and rendering of images, video, and animations. Key players include Nvidia and AMD, producing dedicated GPUs that can perform fast math 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. 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.

Application processor (AP) / System-on-a-chip (SoC)

A SoC is an integrated circuit that combines all the functions of a computer on one IC microchip. An SoC will typically integrate the CPU, GPU, and memory (RAM), and are commonly found in smartphones, tablets, wearables, and other IoT devices. As a SoC includes both the hardware and software, it uses less power, has better performance, and requires less space, hence their popularity within modern-day smartphones. A mobile AP is a SoC designed to support applications running in a mobile operating system environment. Examples include the Qualcomm Snapdragon, and the Apple A13 Bionic chip found in the iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro, with both SoCs using Arm’s processor architecture.

Arm processor architecture

Arm, also recognized in the industry as ARM, is a semiconductor and software design company with its global headquarters in Cambridge in the United Kingdom. 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, and SoCs. In 2020, Apple announced it will begin using Arm-based CPUs across its line of Mac PCs, a move away from their current partnership with Intel, with the transition to Apple's custom Arm-based chips expected to take place over a two-year period. In addition to mobile APs, Arm is looking to strengthen its position in the networking equipment, data center, cloud, and IoT device markets.

AI chips

The next development in the semiconductor industry are chips that support artificial intelligence (AI) technologies. Some of the biggest names are involved in the development of AI chips, including traditional players like Intel, Samsung, Nvidia, and Qualcomm. GPUs have been favored for AI applications due to their ability to perform millions of mathematical operations in parallel. In recent years, AI chip startups have emerged as they look to disrupt the market, notably Graphcore who have developed the intelligence processing unit (IPU). In addition to startups, larger tech firms like Apple and Google are also looking to innovate in the AI chips space, with the latter producing the tensor processing unit (TPU) – an ASIC developed specifically for AI activities. Startups, as well as processor incumbents, are also having to compete against the developments being made by other notable tech companies including Amazon, Facebook, and Tencent.

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Processors

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Central processing unit (CPU)

Graphics processing unit (GPU)

Application processor (AP)

Arm processor architecture

AI chips

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