How ARM Makes Money

AMD, Intel and NVIDIA all make money by ultimately selling someone a chip. ARM’s revenue comes entirely from IP licensing. It’s up to ARM’s licensees/partners/customers to actually build and sell the chip. ARM’s revenue structure is understandably very different than what we’re used to.

There are two amounts that all ARM licensees have to pay: an upfront license fee, and a royalty. There are a bunch of other adders with things like support, but for the purposes of our discussions we’ll focus on these big two.

Everyone pays an upfront license fee and everyone pays a royalty. The amount of these two is what varies depending on the type of license.

The upfront license fee depends on the complexity of the design you’re licensing. An older ARM11 will have a lower up front fee than a Cortex A57. The upfront fee generally ranges from $1M - $10M, although there are options lower or higher than that (I’ll get to that shortly).

The royalty is on a per chip basis. Every chip that contains ARM IP has a royalty associated with it. The royalty is typically 1 - 2% of the selling price of the chip. For chips that are sold externally that’s an easy figure to calculate, but if a company is building and selling a chip internally the royalty is based on what the market price would be for that chip.

Both the up front license fee and the royalty are negotiable. There are discounts for multiple ARM cores used in a single design. This is where things like support contracts come into play.

Buses/interfaces come for free, you really just pay for CPU/GPU licenses. ARM’s Mali GPU is typically going to be viewed as an adder and is currently viewed as demanding less of a royalty than ARM’s high-end CPU licenses. A rough breakdown is below:

ARM Example Royalties
IP Royalty (% of chip cost)
ARM7/9/11 1.0% - 1.5%
ARM Cortex A-series 1.5% - 2.0%
ARMv8 Based Cortex A-series 2.0% and above
Mali GPU 0.75% - 1.25% adder
Physical IP Package (POP) 0.5% adder

In cases of a POP license, the royalty is actually paid by the foundry and not the customer. The royalty is calculated per wafer and it works out to roughly a 0.5% adder per chip sold.

It usually takes around 6 months to negotiate a contract with an ARM licensee. From license acquisition to first revenue shipments can often take around 3 - 4 years. Designs can then ship for up to 20 years depending on the market segment.

Of the 320 companies that license IP from ARM, over half are currently paying a royalty - the rest are currently in period between signing a license and shipping a product. ARM signs roughly 30 - 40 new licensees per year.

About 80% of the companies that sign a license end up building a chip that they can sell in the market. The remaining 20% either get acquired or fail for other reasons. Royalties make up roughly 50% of ARM’s total revenues, licensing fees are just over 33% and the remainder is equally distributed between software tools and technical support.

ARM's revenues are decent (and growing), but it's still a relatively small company. In 2012 ARM brought in $913.1M. Given how many ARM designs exist in the market (and the size of some of ARM's biggest customers), it almost seems like ARM should be raising its royalty rates a bit. Because of ARM's unique business model, gross margin can be north of 94%. Operating margin tends to be around 45% though.

How ARM Works Types of License & The Chosen Three
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  • Wolfpup - Friday, June 28, 2013 - link

    8.7 billion chips in one year...that's mind blowing :-O And of course isn't even counting all the multiple CPUs in many chips.

    I guess I should really be supportive of what they do, given their model is probably healthier than Intel's, but I'm still biased against ARM because of how low end their stuff is (not to mention that it's never been used in a really great PC before...I suppose since Android is technically open it could be considered a PC, but...yuck).
    Reply
  • Qwertilot - Friday, June 28, 2013 - link

    Not never - they did start out in very decent computers. Not for a long while of course. Wonder if we'll ever see arm linux devices in any sorts of real numbers. Reply
  • dealcorn - Friday, June 28, 2013 - link

    As Android is branded linux, I think we are already there. The open source community is very supportive of ARM on Linux, but products available in the marketplace generally lack contemporary ARM chips at affordable prices. Linux clearly works on select non cutting edge ARM products such as the Rasberry Pi, but the performance falls short of mainstream appeal. Reply
  • Qwertilot - Friday, June 28, 2013 - link

    That's the main issue I guess. I guess that (seemingly very popular) Samsung chrome book might be closest to counting. Suppose its mostly whether anyone bothers putting a workable thing together, all the interfaces you'd like on the SoC etc. Reply
  • ShieTar - Friday, June 28, 2013 - link

    Sir, for the atrocity of calling the ACORN "not a really great PC" I will have to formally demand satisfaction from you! I propose we meet at the break of dawn, and duel by throwing Monkey Island style insults from 20 feet distance!

    The truth is, while Black-Hat-White-Hat thinking is fun in terms of you favorite electronic implementation of the overcomplicated abacus, its never been very relevant for my own decisions in reality. I've grown up an absolute Commodore addict, both on the C64 and the AMIGA, only leaving an Apple IIe in for a bit of latenight-programming (The commodores were connected to the family TV, the Apple had a tiny monochrome monitor and was firmly located inside my own room). But once I joined university (College for you US guys) and I needed a cost-efficient platform for simulations and LaTeX-editing, I've jumped over to the PC-platform quickly enough. And about 3 month after grudgingly admiting this "Wintel"-Thing into my home, I tremendously enjoyed myself playing Starcraft.

    Of course I still yell "AMIGA 4 Life" at anybody who proposes I use an Apple instead of an IBM compatible for my PC needs. Which confuses the hell out of everybody, but luckily building a satellite takes 5-10 years, so the team has pleanty of time to get used to my antics.

    Still, when some new platform comes around that can do what I need to be done, I will end up buying it. I will complain, I will point out to people that "The Cloud" is really just FTP with a better front-end, and I will yell "AMIGA 4 Life" from time to time. I may be affected by PC-Tourette.

    So, when it comes to ARM, I'm just about to earn them annother 0.4$. I went to our local tech-search-engine (http://www.heise.de/preisvergleich for those not scared of german) and figured out that of the 933 tablets sold in germany, there is exactly one that offers a 10 inch screen at a weight of 320g, with everything else starting at around 500g. Now I personnally have exactly 2 tasks which really require me to own a table: I need something to read comics without killing trees, which my Kindle won't really do due to a lack of pictures and colours. And I sometimes need a map when I visit a city which is not the one I live in. For both tasks, the exact kind of processor does hardly matter. The screen resolution is a point, but not critical. Cameras are irrelevant. SD-Cards are nice, but not critical. And so on. So while the majority of tech-sites goes on to discuss Apple vs. Samsung vs. Asus vs. I'm not sure what else, I will go and by myself a "Cube U30GT". I don't know anybody who owns one, I have never read a review from a credible site recomending one, but I know how to use a search engine, and this thing turns up as the best thing for my exact needs.

    To come back to the point:
    Intel engineering is probably "better" than ARM, but I will buy an ARM device next.
    Apple and ASUS are VERY likely better overall designers of tablets than Cube (If that is even the company name), but I will buy a Cube product next.
    I have a specific need, so I will buy a specific product.

    Mmh, and while on the subject, a somewhat random but remotely relevant comment on your post, Mister Wolfpup: "Long-Forgotten Guy from Sumeria" has found and refined the grain of wheat, of which we now trade 650 million tons each year (whatever that means in actual number of corns. 650 trillion corns? Maybe.)

    So, my point? Stop obsessing who is best, or most relevant, and let your voice be heard on what you want and need. This is how we progress, by understanding the needs of people and the capabilities of science and engineering. Random comments on "I won't buy your stuff because people don't buy your stuff" don't really progress anything.

    So, while we're at it: I want a 200g ASUS-Infinity-Tablet to go on a Keyboard-Dock. And I want that dock to have a big battery and a decent 2.5" SSD included, and nice mechanical keys and a decent number of USB-ports.

    Thanks.
    Reply
  • hazydave - Tuesday, July 02, 2013 - link

    Nice to read the Amiga love... but keep in mind, real Amiga development at Commodore pretty much stopped in 1993, given the troubles with mismanagement and other crimes. The great effect of the x86-PC was democratizing the personal computer, at least at the system level. Anyone could (and can) build their own. Heck, even Apple's Macintosh evolved into a bog standard PC.

    ARM has managed to take that to the next level, by basically doing the same thing for chip designers that Intel and AMD and the huge industry behind them did for system integrators. I doubt that Amiga would have gone x86 in 1994, had Commodore been healthy, but it would have moved off 68K, that's for certain -- the successor to the Amiga 3000/4000 architecture was CPU neutral at the system level, and the custom chips were headed that way as well. But certainly, had things lasted, the Amiga would be x86 today. And maybe looking at ARM versions as well.

    I actually feel a little better about running Android on my Galaxy Nexus or Asus Transformer Infinity (128GB total storage... plenty for Android, you don't really need a larger SSD) than Windows 7 on my "home made" PC. Microsoft WAS the Evil Empire; I'm pretty sure they're still Evil, but not sure about the whole Empire thing anymore. ARM, Asus, Linux and Google... much less so.

    But at the end of the day, you have stuff to do on that PC. I took me a little while to figure out the whole retro-computing thing, but it's the basic idea that, in the early home computer days, certainly when the C64 and Amiga first shipped, the computer WAS your hobby. You bought a computer to "do computing"... probably writing some code, sure, some store-bought programs as well, but the central focus was that computer.

    That hasn't been the case for ages, though. Unless you're buying a Raspberry Pi or some-such, you're probably buying a PC as an engine for something else: web entre, CAD, music, video, gaming, office automation, etc. A few are still coding, of course, but even that's probably more about a specific project than learning every tiny detail of a specific bit of hardware and code. The PC itself is an easily replaceable part. And I think, at least in part, if you're nostalgic for Commodores or Amigas or Apple ][s, you're missing that bit of "soul" that emerged in exploring those machines' depths.
    Reply
  • mali_07 - Friday, June 28, 2013 - link

    Intel's brand new haswell benchmarked against A9 which has been in Market for like 3 years that too on Intel optimized platform giving misleading data. Can Intel now dare to benchmark it against Cortex A12 which is 30% faster than A15.
    What about A50 series which will be 3x faster than present series of Cortex. Intel only has survived owing to its money which it uses in ads through you guys.
    ARM infact is one generation ahead of INTEL.
    Reply
  • name99 - Friday, June 28, 2013 - link

    Oh for crying out loud. Reply
  • ShieTar - Friday, June 28, 2013 - link

    You need to be more vocal and explicit in your responses. I have extracted almost no amusement at all from your response. I suggest you go ahead and outright call this person an Idiot. Or go for Imbecile, he seems to have problems to count to 15 anyways. Or maybe you want to go and make my day and declare him a "Cortex-loving son of an ARM-brained RISC-lover"

    Seriously, Kids today just don't know how to start a serious riot anymore.
    Reply
  • zifuxyx - Friday, June 28, 2013 - link

    arm will finally defeat by intel
    it is no reason to doubt, just about the time
    in 1 or 2 years ?
    Reply

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