ARM: We're the neutral Switzerland of the IT industry

ARM is in a very good position. As the industry quibbles within its inner circles, be it about patents or the much publicised desertion of the BAPCO benchmark standard, ARM has become the neutral, wealthy Switzerland of the IT industry.

When asked whether the patent spat between Samsung and Apple will have a knock-on effect on the rest of the industry – whatever the outcome – the answer from ARM’s Jem Davies, ARM Fellow, VP of technology, media processing at the company, was clear. Much clearer than his catchy title.

“We don’t see it affecting ARM directly because of the nature of who’s suing whom over what,” he told us. “Clearly patents is something we take very seriously as an IP company – something we spend a lot of time working on and pay attention to very carefully.”

But “ARM is a bit of a neutral,” Davies says. To say a bit downplays the company’s excellent position. Even if the Apple and Samsung tiff gets messier, “We don’t choose winners. We enable all of our partners across the industry at any one time.”

Even if IP disputes do knock the sector speaking generally, “it is possible, but we try as far as possible to stay out of those [arguments]”. 

As an IP company, it tries to steer clear of the benchmark debate, but again its position is clear and approaching confrontational to an industry which relies on them, to a point, for marketable product. “Benchmarks are clearly a nightmare. Everybody has their own views on what is representative and what isn’t. Clearly all manufacturers show off the ones they lead on. ARM’s position is pretty straightforward: all benchmarks are flawed.”

Davies’ point is that, as with statistics and surveys, different benchmarks can be bent to favour or disfavour certain elements of products for any company. “If you really want to understand the performance of silicon or IP, you need to measure what you care about,” he tells us. “If you care about Crysis, you need to benchmark running Crysis. If you care about your UI, you should run your UI. When we engage with prospective customers, that’s where we try to move the conversation to.”

Benchmarks do have a role to play, says Davies. “There are lots of benchmarks, and you can argue about what you like or not.

“What we get hung up on is when we come across benchmarks which are configurable. They’re great inside the lab, but when you try and compare different manufacturer’s IP or chips it becomes almost impossible, because you have to specify your 256 configuration options, and compare theres, and compare like with like. The only place we would come down and say ‘This is a bad benchmark’ is a benchmark like that.”

ARM says all you need to do is look at the Kishonti GL. It’s non-configurable. “You might argue about the content, but, you know, rough with the smooth – at least it’s the same with everyone.”

ARM doesn’t specifically endorse a benchmark. Instead, we hear that it would “prefer the industry independent ones, where a third party has set up a business to run benchmarks which are less easily affected by single companies.”

“But, in the end, people tend to see through these things. It’s a nightmare – you do the best you can.”