After a decade of revisions to the ARMv8 architecture, ARM is finally introducing the ARMv9. The ARMv9 provides the processor capability for specialized computing in AI and ML, enhanced security, and the total compute design methodology, which uses a “system-wide” approach to optimizing system-on-a-chip (SoC) performance.
According to the ARM 2021 Vision Day release, the ARM architecture’s future in the coming years will realize “any OS, on any ARM-based hardware” with the ServerReady program.
A high-level image of ARM’s development in the coming decade is trending towards specialized processing. “The Future of Arm Architecture” screenshot used courtesy of ARM
Enhancements for a New Generation of ARM Architecture
ARMv9’s key features include full v8 compatibility, enhanced security, a revised version of scalable vector extension (initially present in ARMv8) called SVE2 (which sits on top of SVE and Neon), and increased support for virtualization.
Currently only being defined for the A-class ARM processors, ARMv9 includes all of the base functionality of the ARMv8 architecture, alongside unique v9 enhancements.
One enhancement is on security by including a new type of architecture. ARMv9 will also boost concurrency performance through transactional memory extension (TME) for multi-threading and improved debugging capabilities with the branch record buffer extensions (BRBE).
A final enhancement is that the SVE2 will expand the ARM processors’ capability to support fixed-point arithmetic, enabling a new generation of DSP, ML, and AI applications.
Applications for the ARMv9 Architecture
According to ARM, SVE2 allows the collection and processing of large amounts of data, which is a crucial requirement for AI and ML applications’ advancement.
The evolution of SVE. The Future of Arm Architecture screenshot used courtesy of ARM
Some of the applications that utilize this new technology include algorithms for computer vision, LTE baseband processing, and even genomics.
Not only are these applications critical within the architecture of ARMv9, but security is also where v9 could shine the brightest.
ARM Introduces a More Secure Platform with CCA
The Confidential Compute Architecture (CCA) is the newest security development present in the ARM family of processors, available to compliant v9 ARM devices.
While still in the early stages of development, the basic principle behind this new technology is isolating critical data even from the OS running on the hardware.
Traditionally, as privileged software, an OS would have access to read and modify any data transferred (i.e., banking credentials). The new ARM CCA introduces “realms,” a world separate from the secure and non-secure OS functions where data is not accessible to the main OS and thus protected.
Introducing the Realm Management Extension (RME), a major component of the ARMv9 architecture. The Future of Arm Architecture screenshot used courtesy of ARM
To develop the most secure platform, ARM has partnered up with many technology firms, most notably on security improvements from the University of Cambridge and Google, which address security concerns in software and hardware.
The University of Cambridge Develops the “CHERI” on Top
Late last year, ARM released the Morello architecture specification, which implements the capability hardware-enhanced RISC instruction (CHERI).
CHERI has two key features: memory protection and scalable software compartmentalization. These two features help prevent widespread system breaches by breaking up the OS and applications into separate domains.
CHERI’s software model for enhanced RISC architecture. Image used courtesy of the University of Cambridge
Encrypting Memory Accessors With Tag Checking
Designed in partnership with Google and initially implemented in the ARMv8-A specification, memory tag extension is a hardware specification that enables tagged memory addresses to perform a “lock and key” operation with memory pointers to determine the validity of access.
High-level hardware platform designed to implement MTE tag checks, part of the AMBA 5 Coherent Hub Interface (CHI) specification. Image used courtesy of ARM [PDF]
ARMv9 is a Milestone Development
According to Simon Segars, CEO of ARM, the ARMv9 roadmap will enable a “globally-pervasive” platform creating an ecosystem of more than 1000 technology partners.
Data security is one of the most demanding constraints on system design. ARM partners believe that CCA will reduce development costs dedicated to security and make available those resources for future innovation.
ARMv9 tackles computing’s biggest security challenges and brings improved performance for the most demanding consumer applications, in the cloud, and at the edge of the networked world.
Virtualization, security, and high-performance computing applications are just some of the interesting developments coming down the pipeline from ARM.
What interests you the most? Let us know in the comments below.