an Interview with
StePhen ByraM fUrBer is the ICL Professor of Com- puter Engineering in the School of Computer Sci- ence at the University of
Manchester, U.K. Furber is renowned
for his work at Acorn Computers Ltd.,
where he was a principal designer of
the BBC Microcomputer System and
the ARM microprocessor, both of
which have achieved unique historical
The BBC Micro platform was fundamental to computing in British education in the 1980s and directly led to the
development of the ARM architecture.
The ARM architecture is the most widely used 32-bit RISC architecture and the
ARM processor’s power efficiency—
performing the same amount of work as
other 32-bit processors while consuming one-tenth the amount of electricity—has resulted in the widespread
dominant use of the ARM processor in
mobile devices and embedded systems.
Furber is a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering, of the Royal Society, the IEEE, the British Computer
Society and the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), and was
appointed Commander of the Order of
the British Empire (CBE) in 2008.
Jason Fitzpatrick, a computer historian and the curator at the Centre
for Computing History at Suffolk,
U.K., conducted an extensive interview
with Furber on behalf of the museum,
which is dedicated to creating a permanent public exhibition telling the story
the BBC micro was
just the front end
of something that
was designed as
a dual processor
from the outset.
of the information age (see http://www.
computinghistory.org.uk/.) A video of
the interview is available at http://www.
condensed version of the interview is
I’d like to talk to you about your in-
volvement with acorn, and what it’s
led to today.
I was at the University [in Cam-
bridge]; I read maths as an under-
graduate and I went on to do a Ph.D.
in aerodynamics. During my Ph.D. I
got interested in aspects of flight, and
then I heard about the formation of
the Cambridge University Processor
Group. I thought maybe I should join
up with these guys and see if I could
build myself a flight simulator or some-
thing like that. I was involved in the
University Processor Group from its
foundation although I wasn’t actually
a founder. I went along to the very first
meetings and started building com-
puters for fun, which was fairly scary
in those days because the components
had to be ordered from California by
mail order using a credit card. I was a
student so credit cards were fairly scary
then; using them internationally was
even scarier. But we got the micropro-
cessors. My first machine was based
on the Signetics 2650, which not many
people have heard of these days. It
had a full kilobyte of static RAM main
memory. I assembled the circuit board
using Verowire, which is a little wiring
pen where you hand-wired the things
together; you soldered it, which melted
the insulation and made the connec-
tions. I understand it gave off carcino-
genic vapor, but it hasn’t got me yet.