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ARM Likes That Intel is Getting into Smartphone CPU Business

By - Source: TechRadar | B 29 comments

ARM is slowly but surely transitioning from a company that once few knew about into a player that is getting the attention of Intel.

While ARM is dominating the consumer electronics, especially cellular phones, with more than 1 billion processors based on ARM IP every quarter, it is the clear underdog in revenue, profitability and resources when compared to Intel. However, ARM executives continue to launch needles that may hit Intel here and there and underscore ARMs claim to be a much more recognized chip designer.

In an interview with TechRadar, executive vice president Lance Howarth said that ARM was actually happy that Intel is making its way into smartphones, because that would cause people to wonder what other manufacturer is providing processors and eventually lead them to vendors that use ARM architectures. He described Intel's move into smartphones as "one of the best things that's ever happened to [ARM]".

The executives considers the battle with Intel as an opportunity to rise from "anonymous ubiquity". He told the publication that his "utopian goal is that when you guys talk about technology, say the latest HTC phone – that it isn't HTC on Qualcomm but HTC on Qualcomm which is ARM."

"I want to get ARM into almost every article," he said. In comparison to Intel, which had sales of $54 billion and a profit of $12.9 billion in 2011, ARM had just $785 million in licensing revenue - but a profit margin of close to 47 percent ($367 million in net earnings). ARM said that 1.2 billion ARM processors shipped into the smartphone market in 2011 and 1 billion into consumer and embedded digital devices.

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  • 23 Hide
    kikireeki , April 9, 2012 1:14 PM
    "ARM Likes That Intel is Getting into Smartphone CPU Business"

    Yeah right!
  • 18 Hide
    CaedenV , April 9, 2012 1:13 PM
    If ARM is not careful they are going to become the Linux of the processor world. A lack of unity, and infighting between manufacturers/distributors will just confuse consumers and force them towards a brand they know and generally like; Intel.
  • 14 Hide
    belardo , April 9, 2012 1:35 PM
    amk-aka-PhantomYou said it! But in all honesty, I hope that Intel takes over that market, too - exactly because it's a brand I know and generally like

    Intel isn't the be all of everything. Its a brand I don't generally like for its illegal strong arm tactics that have hurt competition, selling crappy-ass Pentium 4 CPUs to suckers when AMD ran circles around them.

    But I'll give credit where credit is due. half my computers are intel, a Core i5-35xxK is in my future and I use an intel SSD as well as ONLY sell intel SSDs to my clients. I'll generally go with ATI for graphics.
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    Display all 29 comments.
  • 18 Hide
    CaedenV , April 9, 2012 1:13 PM
    If ARM is not careful they are going to become the Linux of the processor world. A lack of unity, and infighting between manufacturers/distributors will just confuse consumers and force them towards a brand they know and generally like; Intel.
  • 23 Hide
    kikireeki , April 9, 2012 1:14 PM
    "ARM Likes That Intel is Getting into Smartphone CPU Business"

    Yeah right!
  • 4 Hide
    kcorp2003 , April 9, 2012 1:26 PM
    I smell a trap.
  • 14 Hide
    belardo , April 9, 2012 1:35 PM
    amk-aka-PhantomYou said it! But in all honesty, I hope that Intel takes over that market, too - exactly because it's a brand I know and generally like

    Intel isn't the be all of everything. Its a brand I don't generally like for its illegal strong arm tactics that have hurt competition, selling crappy-ass Pentium 4 CPUs to suckers when AMD ran circles around them.

    But I'll give credit where credit is due. half my computers are intel, a Core i5-35xxK is in my future and I use an intel SSD as well as ONLY sell intel SSDs to my clients. I'll generally go with ATI for graphics.
  • 7 Hide
    cybrcatter , April 9, 2012 1:44 PM
    Whatever you say, Howarth. Win8 is going to be the best thing to happen to your company wrt name recognition in quite some time.
  • 4 Hide
    alvinyang , April 9, 2012 1:55 PM
    I smell patent litigation between Intel and ARM in the future.
  • 9 Hide
    __Miguel_ , April 9, 2012 1:59 PM
    @CaedenV: That is also my view on things.

    I personally would not mind ARM and Intel battling it on several fronts, not only the smartphone arena, but also desktop and even server markets. Competition is always a good thing, and we all know Intel is at its best when the competition is really biting at its heels.

    However, while you can just pick up any x86-compatible CPU (generally speaking, any x86 computer) and just know it will work with just about any x86-ready OS you can throw at it in a predictable matter (sure, drivers might be a pain sometimes, but in general it works), with ARM you not only have several completely incompatible instruction sets but you can't even count on a single standard way of accessing hardware.

    Which, in short, means OEMs need to spend time not only looking/coding drivers for the SoCs, but going around and making sure the whole OS plays nice with one particular SoC/SoC design, hence why for instance Android will only run on the Nexus smartphone it was designed for, and everyone else needs colossal amounts of time to not only to get drivers optimized and creating the custom OEM layers (which is expected and expectable), but also porting the whole OS to the other SoCs.

    You can say what you want about x86: it's inefficient, bloated, too old, not designed for low-power operation, etc., but the thing is, the core (and most of the extras that have been added) has remained the same for decades now, and standardized in a way it's extremely easy to work with. Sure, you might get extra instructions from certain CPUs that speed up certain tasks, but most, if not all, of those instructions can be executed in another way, even if with a performance hit.

    What I'm trying to say here is that ARM would only benefit if it followed a single line, like x86. You don't need to force a single way of doing things (AMD, Intel and VIA have been doing it differently for years without problems), you just need to make sure the ecosystem is coherent enough you don't have markets within the ARM market. It you think the best way of booting the system is having the GPU powering up first, handle the POST and then let the CPU take control, so be it, tell everyone that's the way it's going to work from now on and say exactly how it should work. If not, then define a way and stick with it. Same for other stuff going on within the SoC. Suddenly, ARM OS development time would drop like a stone, TtM of the OS too, meaning faster development cycles for finished products and better market penetration.

    Now, that being said, when can I expect an ARM-based mini-ITX board for DIY builds? Like, "just add memory, an HDD/SSD, a case, mouse, keyboard and monitor, and you'll have a full-fledged PC". Heck, with the amount of board real estate available, you could even have a mini-ITX router platform (2x mini-PCIe, 2x Gigabit Ethernet) or a NAS platform (though this one would need a serious overhaul on the ARM storage subsystem capabilities...).

    Miguel
  • 0 Hide
    zaznet , April 9, 2012 1:59 PM
    I think for the most part those who are looking into the processors already know that these are ARM based chips. Even very consumer friendly articles reference the ARM Cortex models when talking about different phones and tablets.
  • 9 Hide
    A Bad Day , April 9, 2012 2:45 PM
    "WTF is ARM?"

    -Your typical ignorant smartphone customer, including teenagers
  • 4 Hide
    CaedenV , April 9, 2012 2:51 PM
    __Miguel_However, while you can just pick up any x86-compatible CPU (generally speaking, any x86 computer) and just know it will work with just about any x86-ready OS you can throw at it in a predictable matter (sure, drivers might be a pain sometimes, but in general it works), with ARM you not only have several completely incompatible instruction sets but you can't even count on a single standard way of accessing hardware.Which, in short, means OEMs need to spend time not only looking/coding drivers for the SoCs, but going around and making sure the whole OS plays nice with one particular SoC/SoC design, hence why for instance Android will only run on the Nexus smartphone it was designed for, and everyone else needs colossal amounts of time to not only to get drivers optimized and creating the custom OEM layers (which is expected and expectable), but also porting the whole OS to the other SoCs.You can say what you want about x86: it's inefficient, bloated, too old, not designed for low-power operation, etc., but the thing is, the core (and most of the extras that have been added) has remained the same for decades now, and standardized in a way it's extremely easy to work with.

    ARM has survived very well because it allows for manufacturers to make a very custom product (everything from refrigerators, to HVAC, to calculators, to microwaves, to dumb phones, and now smartphones have been ARM for a very long time) with each manufacturer being able to trim down the package to a 'specific use' chip. It has served them well in the past for providing low power chip design for a wide variety of products, but when it comes to general computation, compatibility, and stability x86 is the only route to take at the moment.

    Also, I think it will be a huge draw for power users (and especially myself) to be able to run full desktop software on my phone. I don't care if it runs fast, but the ability to run Word (real Word, none of this striped down crap), PowerPoint, and some audio recording software on my phone would completely make my netbook redundant and unneeded. Something ultra small and portable, with the ability to be used as a portable HDD for my personal documents, which also acts as a phone is what I have been waiting for, and the #1 reason I have not jumped on the smartphone bandwagon yet. They are getting there... but with x86 phones and win8 with some form of phone extension I would be a very happy camper.
  • 4 Hide
    __Miguel_ , April 9, 2012 3:08 PM
    CaedenVARM has survived very well because it allows for manufacturers to make a very custom product (everything from refrigerators, to HVAC, to calculators, to microwaves, to dumb phones, and now smartphones have been ARM for a very long time) with each manufacturer being able to trim down the package to a 'specific use' chip. It has served them well in the past for providing low power chip design for a wide variety of products, but when it comes to general computation, compatibility, and stability x86 is the only route to take at the moment.

    Yes, ARM is much more flexible than x86, that's a fact. However, I don't think flexibility and standardization need to be an "either/or" situation. From my point of view, you can be both standard and modular at the same time, and that would only be a good thing.

    CaedenVAlso, I think it will be a huge draw for power users (and especially myself) to be able to run full desktop software on my phone. I don't care if it runs fast, but the ability to run Word (real Word, none of this striped down crap), PowerPoint, and some audio recording software on my phone would completely make my netbook redundant and unneeded. Something ultra small and portable, with the ability to be used as a portable HDD for my personal documents, which also acts as a phone is what I have been waiting for, and the #1 reason I have not jumped on the smartphone bandwagon yet. They are getting there... but with x86 phones and win8 with some form of phone extension I would be a very happy camper.

    Oh, that would be awesome, especially if you could extend and shrink the capabilities as you wished, depending on the situation.

    Asus has an advantage here (they are preparing to launch something like a smartphone-tablet convertible), you can add a bigger screen and full keyboard to your smartphone. But, as you said, software is a bit lacking yet.

    You don't specifically need x86 for productivity suites. I'm sure OpenOffice or LibreOffice could be ported to ARM, and I think there will be an ARM-friendly Office 15 version. Those are all good options, you just need the hardware modularity to make it work (though even low-power x86 will be lacking on the speed department when we start throwing desktop-class applications at it).

    That being said, a Win8/WP8, x86-based smartphone with a screen/keyboard dock (or even just a convenient base with HDMI/USB plugs and decent external I/O speed) would kick so much ass I would probably go all "The Lonely Island" on my pants... :p 

    Miguel
  • 6 Hide
    eddieroolz , April 9, 2012 3:10 PM
    I do admit that ARM's gotten a lot more publicity over the last few years, but I'm not so convinced that it's because of Intel.
  • 7 Hide
    rantoc , April 9, 2012 5:11 PM
    I have a feeling Arm will be the next Amd...
  • 2 Hide
    jkflipflop98 , April 9, 2012 5:21 PM
    Dude must be high.
  • 0 Hide
    __Miguel_ , April 9, 2012 7:13 PM

    Sorry, I must have missed something on your train of thought... Or you posted the wrong link, that's a 128GB Crucial m4 SSD on sale at Amazon.com...

    First up, I was referring to a x86-based Windows 8 smartphone. Windows 8 hasn't even launched yet, and there are NO indications it will have voice support for 3G/4G modems on the x86 variant (most likely it will only offer that on the ARM-based Phone Edition).

    Next up, I/O speed depends first of all on the SoC storage subsystem buses, which right now are kind of lacking on most smartphone-class CPUs (USB 2.0 is about the upper limit for ARM-based SoCs, from what I've seen on reviews, though Atom for smartphones might be different, I don't know). If USB3 or SATA (less CPU overhead) can be handled decently, then it's just fine. Only then the speed requirements move to the actual media being accessed.

    That being said, while that particular SSD is a rather good choice (especially on the speed/price ratio), it's probably overkill for any smartphone-class usage model (even as a notebook/netbook/nettop replacement), since the OS and most apps will be stored on the phone itself. A larger, media-oriented, 2.5'' HDD might be a better choice. But of course, that will depend on the usage model.

    Miguel
  • 2 Hide
    sonofliberty08 , April 9, 2012 7:59 PM
    Quote:
    ARM Likes That Intel is Getting into Smartphone CPU Business

    i like to see ARM getting into laptop CPU business as well
  • 2 Hide
    memadmax , April 9, 2012 8:35 PM
    They like it now, for some strange odd reason, but they won't for long....
  • 3 Hide
    velocityg4 , April 9, 2012 9:20 PM
    We'll see how happy ARM is when they are facing 22nm trigate CPU's at the same power usage of their 45nm fab. So Intel will be packing four or more times the transistor count and probably a higher clock rate. ARM will need to step up their game or be swamped out of the smartphone market by Intel.

    Their big hope will be the reluctance of Apple and Android makers to switch. Given that all the current ARM software would be useless on x86. Though it could be the perfect in road for Windows 8 to dominate with high speed x86 chips and full compatibility with desktop software.
  • 2 Hide
    cookoy , April 9, 2012 9:30 PM
    Intel's profit is 16x ARM's revenue. ARM should be worried that such a beast is coming to its playground. It's like Netscape welcoming IE to its backyard.
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