How an obscure British PC maker invented ARM and changed the world

Couldn’t believe that this hadn’t already been posted here:

(The “obscure” epithet probably speaks more of a US perspective, I am pretty certain most people in Europe who were nerding around in the 1980s and 1990s knew of Acorn.)


“Obscure” ? - having that word in the title worried me about what was going to come next. I persevered to the end, and had a bit of a laugh from the first few comments.

The obscure probably stems from either the transatlantic view of the writer and/or their age.


It’s like saying DEC is obscure… which it is, if the writer is young I guess.

Indeed, relative youth is a factor. I read a snippet the other day where the writer inadvertently showed their complete lack of familiarity with fax services. It doesn’t bother me much. I think we’re going to have to get used to it: time moves on.

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What surprises me is that printers still come with fax support - a brand new HP inkjet printer has fax support, I have no idea how to actually use it even if I wanted to. Does it use a phone line? Or the net? I don’t know, and I don’t need it. But in Japan (where I stay in periods) fax is still a thing.

We better face it: we are obscure.

If you are not IBM you are NOBODY it seems. Just reading a old book about the IBM 360/370 and looking at the data sizes and istruuction formats
16/32 bits just a hack from real data size of 64 bits for floating point and
24 bits of address space.Then there is the mess from the IBM PC.
64 bits was planned by BM 7030 ( Stretch) in the 1950’s, and anything made after that is obscure because it a hack to fit into a 8 bit byte machine, and who can market best seems to be the case using a good example of the 68000 to the 8088/8086 as the othe that made the most profit is still
suriviving and a the 68000 is long gone as valid cpu, for the computer market place, rather than the best cpu.
ARM clamed to fast as a second procesor, but did the CPU have the 6502 do all the I/O? 68000 computers like the MAC
had to share screen memory with program space thus slowing memory speed to 1/2 of the bus speed. Not fair to compare speeds here.
Are not all the phones and tablets using ARM’s?
(I still use the old dial type phone)

Regarding “obscure”:
I recall it as a major European news event, when Acorn Computer Group went public in 1983 (while it wasn’t the first Britisch computer manufacturer to so, with notable prior art by Sinclair. But for some reason, Acorn was – in my memory – the bigger news story.)

This was how the early development systems worked which were not for sale, AIUI. The BBC Micro was designed to take 2nd processors and a whole range was available then (and now, e.g. a near 300Mhz 6502 emulated on a Pi)

The early production ARM systems, the Acorn Archimedes just had the ARM inside, no 6502. I bought one - it was great, but at a time in my life where other things were going on, so didn’t really get into it as much as I could have done.


ACORN actually collaborated/consulted a lot which IBM before finally releasing ACORN Risc client systems.

My Archimedes A410/1 was my main machine for quite some time; I added SCSI to it as I had access to spare DEC drives (as I used to work for DEC). It’s still in my garage, somewhere!

I had so many games for it, and loved the desktop software on it.