by Anton Shilov
01/12/2010 | 05:38 PM
Even though there are no shipping mobile phones with Intel Corp.’s chips inside and no personal computers featuring ARM processors on the market, it is widely believed that the competition between the two companies is ongoing. Many believe that going forward Intel will have a lot more opportunities to create powerful chips for ultra mobile applications, but the chief executive of ARM claims that in reality the giant chipmaker does not have any advantages.
Intel is the world’s largest maker of microprocessors and has a number of different micro-architectures in its portfolio and has tens of years of chip design experience. Moreover, the company is also the first to start using new process technologies, which means that it can make smaller and cheaper chips compared to the rivals or integrate more functionality into processors without increasing their cost. All of the aforementioned may threat ARM, which technology powers 98% of various mobile phones today, as Intel begins to target smaller and smaller devices with its own designs.
However, Warren East, the chief executive officer of ARM, claims that the UK-based company also continues to develop high-performance chips, whereas its development and manufacturing problems are creating more advanced process technologies. As a result, Intel does not really have a lot of advantages, according to ARM.
“ARM roadmap does not stand still. We move on from ARM11 to Cortex-A8 to Cortex-A9 products. We’re licensing the generation after Cortex-A9 at the moment with huge levels of performance. Moving on, we have roadmaps with 64-bit and virtualization. Then you come to the semiconductor technology and people say ‘Well, Intel's got some superior semiconductor technology’. Maybe they are six months ahead of the likes of TSMC, Globalfoundries and IBM. We taped out our first 22nm structures the other day. We’ll have 32nm microprocessors in volume in the middle of this year from some ARM partners. So there isn’t a process advantage either. They are going to make some progress, inevitably, because it's a big market and people are going to want to try different things. But I can't see a way for them to make meaningful progress,” said Warren East in an interview with IDG News Service.
Technology-wise ARM may even hard advantages compared to Intel, its chips consume a lot less energy, which is important for low-power devices like mobile phones. However, x86 chips, which are supplied by AMD and Intel, can run Microsoft Windows, the most popular operating system on the planet. Nevertheless, Mr. East is sure that going forward various versions of Linux will provide similar experience.
“The ecosystem is really strong. I think when Intel made their comments quite some time ago, what they were really talking about is the PC software ecosystem around ARM. Absolutely, it's true – certainly it was true – that PC applications have been targeted for the last 25 years at the Intel processor, not at ARM. But in this world of the mobile Internet going forward, now, that's ARM. To make a good consumer experience, you need good browser experience, good plug-ins, good operating systems. […] PCs have got 25 years of Microsoft history behind them and Windows is what you expect if you want a grey box that looks like a [laptop]. A consumer doesn't want to know about the operating system... […]. There’s a whole load of browsers, plug-ins and enablers [for ARM]. […] If you look at what's been accomplished in 18 months to two years and compare that to the 25 years of the Wintel monopoly, it's clear that the consumer experience on Linux-based desktops ... in a relatively short period of time is catching up quickly,” said chief executive officer of ARM.