When Acorn computers first released the BBC Micro over thirty years ago it was a symphony of beige. If you went to school in the 1980s, you doubtless remember the chunky computers with their distinctive row of red function keys and boring brown and cream livery.

The corporate styling of the machine fitted perfectly with the education market at which it was aimed (it was built by Acorn for the BBC's Computer Literacy Project) and was deeply uncool. Compared to the cheaper, friendlier ZX Spectrum, the BBC Micro had the unmistakable air of a geography teacher about it.

ZX Spectrum 48k

Acorn rallied with the more modestly priced Electron, but the Spectrum had already firmly established itself in the hearts and minds of the British public. So Acorn slowly slipped into obscurity...

Well, not quite. Pick up almost any handheld computing device today and chances are that its processor is a direct descendant of that little Acorn. ARM chips can be found in just about every mobile phone and tablet - even the iPad's CPU is basically an ARM processor.

PDAs, iPods, iPhones, handheld games consoles have also used ARM chips over the last two decades. The energy-efficient processors have transformed modern technology and all owe their existence to the Acorn RISC Machine, which was first built in 1985.

The revolutionary technology attracted interest from Apple who, alongside chip manufacturer VLSI, joined with Acorn to form ARM Holdings. ARM processors are now ubiquitous and look set to increase their dominance with the impending release of Windows 8 tablets. Big things do indeed grow from small Acorns.

TimelineSpectrum ZX80


1975 - Sinclair Instrument Ltd established by Clive Sinclair.

1978 - Acorn Computers Ltd formed.



1980 - Acorn Atom released.

1980 - Sinclair releases the ZX80 in both kit and assembled forms.

1980 - Sinclair Instrument Ltd becomes Sinclair Research Ltd.

1980 - Berkeley RISC project begins at the University of California. IBM PC

1981 - IBM PC released.

1981 - ZX81 released.

1981 - BBC Micro Computer released. Schools are given government subsidies to buy them.

1982 - Commodore 64 released.

1982 - ZX Spectrum released and goes on to become the UKs best selling personal computer of all time.

1983 - Acorn Electron released.

1983 - BBC starts Micro Live TV series. (Watch on YouTube)Apple Macintosh 1984

1984 - Apple Macintosh released, replete with the iconic ‘1984’ TV advert.

1984 - Sinclair QL released but fails to catch on.

1984 - Sinclair repackages the Spectrum with a QL style design and calls it the Spectrum+

1985 - Acorn develops the first commercial RISC Processor.

1986 - ZX Spectrum 128 released.

1986 - BBC Master 128 released.Spectrum +2

1986 - Amstrad buys the Sinclair brand and releases the ZX Spectrum +2 which featured a built-in tape deck: very similar to the Amstrad CPC.

1987 - ZX Spectrum +3 released with built in floppy drive but backwards compatibility issues.

1987 - Acorn releases the Archimedes, featuring its new ARM architecture. Acorn Archimedes

Apple Newton Messagepad



1990 - Amstrad ceases production of Spectrum machines.

1990 - ARM Holdings, a joint venture between Apple, Acorn, and VSLI Technology, is founded.

1993 - Apple Newton Messagepad (right) is released complete with ARM 610 processor.

1998 - Over 50 Million ARM licensed products are sold.



2001 - The first iPod is released, with two ARM7TDMI-derived CPUs.

2002 - ARM announces that it has shipped over 1 billion microprocessor cores.

2004 - Nintendo releases the DS with two ARM processors.

2005 - An estimated 98% of all mobile phones sold contains at least one ARM processor.

2007 - The five billionth ARM processor is shipped to the mobile device market

2007 - Apple’s all conquering iPhone is released with a Samsung 32-bit RISC ARM CPU.

2008 - ARM ships its 10 billionth chip.

Apple iPad


2010 - Apple launches first iPad with ARM Cortex-A8 chip, called the Apple A4.

2012 - Microsoft due to release ARM-based Windows 8 RT tablets.