Even though all personal computers nowadays are based on x86 microprocessors, 40% of PC makers surveyed by Morgan Stanley, a financial services firm, are interested in trying to build mobile computers powered by central processing units on ARM architecture in the next three years. Still, market prospects of ARM are undermined by software compatibility and customer acceptance issues.
In a recent survey of 30 PC makers, Morgan Stanley found that 40% of the respondent, which names were not disclosed, indicated that they were at least willing to try building ARM-based systems over the next two years; potentially, this may result in ARM chips inside 10% of PCs in 2013 in Morgan Stanley’s view. The results of the survey are not really surprising. For example, by 2015, International Data Corp. expects that over 13% of PC processors will be based on the ARM architecture, which will occur only if the majority of computer makers start to adopt ARM-based chips.
But while using ARM makes a lot of sense inside media tablets or smartphones, there are a lot of concerns for ARM inside traditional PCs in desktop or notebook form-factors. ARM-based chips are incompatible with the vast majority of programs for Microsoft Windows platform, they do not offer truly high compute performance and it also remains to be seen whether those chips will be accepted by end-users instead of those from Advanced Micro Devices or Intel Corp.
"We believe PC makers in general still view the transition to ARM with a lot of uncertainty. The lack of certainty on consumer acceptance, software compatibility issues, and the readiness of the ARM processors by 2012 are all roadblocks. We see the move to quad core processors and 28nm process technology as critical steps to allow the ARM camp to improve in these areas. We believe most of the ARM processors for PCs will be done at 28nm or even 20nm in the next two years, and since TSMC has a significant lead at 28nm, we would expect TSMC to garner the majority of this business,” a report by Morgan Stanley reads, reportsFocusTaiwan web-site.
With the release of Microsoft Windows 8 operating system in 2012 as well as availability of low-cost quad-core ARM Cortex-A9-based system-on-chip devices from companies like Nvidia Corp. or Texas Instruments, PC makers will be able to try their luck with ARM next year. Nonetheless, it is more likely that ARM will have a real chance on the PC market with the availability of more powerful Cortex-A15 or ARMv8 cores.