Friday April 10th, 2009
ARM vs Intel
When people think microprocessors, they naturally think of PC-based microprocessors and the companies Intel and AMD. But PCs are only a fraction of the products that use microprocessors, and to many people's surprise, about 75% of the microprocessors sold worldwide utilize the architecture from a company called ARM. Founded in 1990 and headquartered in Cambridge, England, ARM dominates the niche market of portable devices. ARM processors are commonly found in cell phones, PDAs, mp3 players, GPS devices, televisions, gaming units, hard drives, network devices, and digital cameras. The Ford Sync feature in my Escape utilizes an ARM11 processor. The iPhone, likewise, uses an ARM11, and the Blackberry Storm utilizes a dual-core ARM9 and ARM11. In fact, about 98% of all cell phones have one or more ARM microprocessors. Why does ARM dominate these markets? Because of their low power consumption and low cost. The clean, simple, and fast design of ARM processors allow it to compete quite well with much more complex CPU designs despite the fact that ARM processors run at what many would consider low speeds. These factors give ARM its advantage.

ARM's success is giving Intel a run for their money, especially as ARM and Intel are clashing in the Mobile Internet Device (MID) and netbook arenas. With Qualcomm releasing the SnapDragon chipset based on ARMv7 architecture, it has enough horsepower to run a netbook with enough power savings to last 8 hours. In fact, a new device called the PurseBook (which is essentially a high-end cell phone built into the form factor of a netbook) was demoed at CTIA, which utilizes the SnapDragon chipset and weighs just 800 grams. Intel's Atom processor, built in many of the netbooks sold today, is combating the rise of high-end ARM processors. However, Nvidia has released the Tegra line of processors, based on the ARM architecture, which have better performance and power consumption than the Atom. With Qualcomm, Nvidia, Texas Instruments, and others all developing ARMv7-based high-end chipsets that can be used to power netbooks, Intel is getting irritated. Intel has already made headlines by critizing ARM processor's lack of power (and ired Apple to boot), but with the high power consumpiton and high price of Intel chips, the trend of switching from Intel to ARM continues. With some dramatic, albeit highly unrealistic, headlines floating around the MID/netbook world such as "ARM to surpass Intel by 2012", Intel will be fighting back.
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Tuesday April 14th, 2009

Byron says:

I like the comment from the Intel guy about smartphones not being smart because they use ARM. I guess he's a little biased. It seems to be a shift in attitude since Intel developed the XScale a few years ago.