ARM Set to Clothesline Intel

Dennis Faas's picture

It seems that Intel will soon find themselves displaced by new, low power, high-function chips pioneered by cell phone chip makers. The new generation of chips are lower cost and use half the power of Intel's own "low power" equivalents.

How did this happen?

For almost 30 years, Intel has focused on improving speed, ignoring the power consumption issue. Improving performance was everything. But in the same time period, the cell phone emerged and evolved. Cell phone chips were created using completely different design constraints. Battery life and cost were the driving requirements. Using less power and making them cheap enough to ensure the final phone would be economical was overriding objectives.

Over time, cell phones became more graphic and also became smarter. But the battery life and cost constraints remained the same. In the world of always-on, portable, Internet-able devices, speed was not the burning issue.

As a result, when it comes to the rapidly expanding mobile Internet computing marketplace, Intel could well be left out in the cold. (Source:

Intel's chief threats are the licensees of a tiny chip firm known as ARM Holdings in Britain. They are the standard in the cell phone industry and offer processor chips for substantially less than the Intel xx86 chipsets. ARM Holdings has stacked up an impressive array of licensees. Firms like Qualcomm, Nvidia, Samsung, Texas Instruments, and others use ARM technology in more that 1.1 billion cell phones as well as special consumer devices like GPS navigators, TV converters, and so-called MID's (Mobile Internet Devices).

By comparison, Intel's low-power Atom technology has 30 products to support it although its new Silverthorne chips claims to be able to offer a platform for a much better Internet "experience" than ARM-based products. That might not be obvious to the rest of the industry. Apple's iPhone, based on the ARM chip, is largely acknowledged to offer the best mobile web experience.

The battle between Intel and the ARM-based products may well be decided by software developers. Intel claims that they will provide PC to Silverthorne compatibility (at some level). ARM, on the other hand seems to be manifest in different combinations of features for different licensees which may hamper compatibility across ARM devices. Historically, however, software developers can move quickly if presented with the right incentives. (Source:

For the first time in a long while, Intel is going to have to scramble if it doesn't want to lose some significant market share. It won't be the first time (or the last!) in this highly volatile industry.

Rate this article: 
No votes yet