The rise of the high-performance mobile devices, including smartphones and slate PCs, will inevitably catalyze developers of x86 chips to create more power-efficient processors and designers of ARM-based solutions to improve performance of their offerings. Naturally, developers of MIPS-based products will also try to challenge both ARM and x86 in the coming years.
ARM-based applications processors currently have a virtual lock on the smartphone market. Traditionally ARM processors have provided the best power efficiency while having comparatively less processing grunt than Intel equivalents, a formula that has worked well for smartphones so far. By contrast, x86 central processing units (CPUs) from Advanced Micro Devices and Intel Corp. have traditionally offered very high performance, but at the cost of relatively high power consumption. As a result of the current market trends, ARM and x86 offerings will get closer to each other in terms of performance and power consumption.
“Both Intel and ARM have been working hard to address their weaker areas and there will be a point in the next few years when the performance/power efficiency of these technologies will be equal. At that point the competition in the market should be immense. x86 and MIPS cores have entered the market in 2011, and are forecast to grow to around 18% of the market by 2016," said Peter Cooney, the principal analyst at ABI Research.
The top four suppliers - Texas Instruments, Qualcomm, Samsung, and Marvell - were estimated to account for over 70% of total market revenues in 2010, and those revenues are forecast to double between 2010 and 2016.
“The critical ‘if’ in these forecasts is the performance of the smartphone market. If it continues to grow at its recent rate, these market forecasts should be accurate, and we have no reason to believe that it won’t," saod Stuart Carlaw, chief research officer at ABI.
While this battle royal of chip architectures takes place, average selling prices of chipsets are forecast to fall, but more slowly than might be expected. Prices will be supported by the introduction of new applications that require new processor designs: applications such as stereo-3D video and augmented reality.
The final contest in the market is between integrated and standalone application processors. Standalone designs are more likely to be used in higher-end devices, while low to mid-range smartphones will tend to use integrated solutions to give faster time to market and make life easier for the OEMs.