Acorns to Oaks: five personal stories behind Acorn Computers and Arm

ARM Cortex A57 A53

One of the great success stories of the UK’s technology industry is Arm, Advanced RISC Machines, a semiconductor and software design company based in Cambridge launched in 1991.

Arm’s primary business is the design of ARM processors (CPUs) used in virtually all modern smartphones. Its chip design instructions and technologies are used by the world’s largest chip manufacturers such the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company and technology giants Apple and Samsung to make their own chips.

The origins of Arm go back to 1983 and Acorn Computers with the acronym originally standing for Acorn RISC Machine. Acorn Computers’ first RISC processor was used in the original Acorn Archimedes and was one of the first RISC processors used in microcomputers.

Archives of Information Technology (AIT) has captured the personal histories of five key contributors to these Cambridge Fen phenomena companies: five acorns who built a multi-billion-pound industry. We have also created a playlist on our YouTube channel, which also includes a clip from our interview with Sir Clive Sinclair, who hired our first pioneer below.

The five pioneers are:

Chris Curry who co-founded Acorn Computers which not only had its own range but also designed and sold the BBC Micro launched in 1981.

Steve Furber principal designer of the Acorn microcomputer and of the BBC Micro which eventually sold 1.5 million computers linked to the BBC’s Computer Literacy project and co-designer of the RISC microprocessor at Acorn.

Dr Hermann Hauser who he co-founded Acorn with Curry, guided its development including the design of the RISC microprocessor and became a venture capitalist.

Andy Hopper who co-founded Acorn and conducted pioneering research into local area networks, ran the Olivetti Cambridge Research labs and co-founded at least ten IT companies.

And Sir Robin Saxby who was the first CEO of Advanced RISC Machines (ARM), the microprocessor company spun out from Acorn in 1991. He started with 12 engineers and helped build the company with his business model to a size where it was worth £23.4 billion in 2016. (In August 2023 Arm announced it has filed paperwork to sell its shares in the US and was looking for a valuation of around £47bn.)

The five played different roles in creating Cambridge’s world-class technology hub, generating vital technologies that power, computers, mobile IT and networking. The aim of AIT is to capture the past and inspire the future and we hope you are inspired as you listen to the stories of these five pioneers.

Between them these five have earned two knighthoods (Hauser’s KBE is a knighthood for a foreign national), three CBEs and a host of industry and professional awards for their contributions to the history of IT in the UK.

Related material