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Can Intel Wrestle ARM?

Gordon Kelly


Intel ARM 4

Beating Moore's Law May Not Be Enough

I'm sure you've heard of Moore's Law. It claims the number of transistors that can be placed on an integrated circuit will double approximately every two years. This is often incorrectly quoted as performance doubling every 18 months, but regardless it is a phenomenal technological achievement which has remained true for 46 years. Yesterday Intel revealed its latest roadmap will out accelerate Moore's Law and the most remarkable thing is this might not be enough…

In unveiling its Ultrabook concept, Intel executive vice president Sean Maloney said its Atom line of processors will be getting a die shrink every year for the next three years. That means the 32nm Cedar Trail design will be succeeded by 22nm and 14nm versions by 2014. "Sandy Bridge is the first step in reinventing the PC," proclaimed Maloney. "The second step is Ivy Bridge, which is built on our industry-leading 22-nanometer process. The third step is Haswell in 2013. We will double the battery life."

Intel ARM 1

The first Ultrabook will be the Asus UX21 (pictured) and Maloney believes the new sector will claim a whopping 40 per cent of the notebook market within 18 months. What Maloney didn't address, however, is who will claim the remaining 60 per cent? If you believe the foke at ARM, the answer is them.

Intel ARM

Speaking at Computex this week, ARM president Tudor Brown stated: "Today we have about 10 percent market share [in mobile PCs]. By the end of 2011 we believe we will have about 15 percent of that market share as tablets grow. By 2015, we expect that to be over 50 percent of the mobile PC market… Traditional PC chips only accounted for six per cent of our whole PC chip shipments of six billion units last year, the contribution will still be less than 10 percent in the future."

The message is clear: ARM believes desktops are dying and mobile devices are taking over. Its dominance of mobile phones and tablets should see its market share skyrocket and it sees an easy transition into notebooks. Furthermore it believes Intel could be powerless to stop it. After all, Intel may be ahead of Moore's Law, but Moore's Law is an Intel boast about Intel hardware. "We've been working at 20 nanometre and we've had test chips at 20 nanometre for over a year," said Brown. ARM is currently testing 14nm chips with IBM.

ARM also sees the challenge of making its chips more powerful easier than Intel's challenge to make its chips more efficient. Besides ARM already has the Cortex A15, a quad core chip capable of scaling to eight cores each running at up to 2.5GHz.

Intel ARM 2

Qualcomm claims its version of a quad core A15 chip, the 'APQ8064', will be released in early 2012. Nvidia and its hugely impressive Kal-El chip (which marries a quad core A15 with a 12 core GPU) will also arrive in 2012. Kal-El can run 2560 x 1600 HD video without breaking a sweat and Nvidia CEO Jen-Hsun Huang was recently quoted saying ARM-based mobile chips will outrun traditional PC chips in just five years.

Game over? Not quite.

Greg Shewan

June 1, 2011, 4:09 pm

ARM's rise over the past two years has been staggering, with their head start I would be wiling to bet the farm that ARM will crush Intel's mobile dreams within the next 2-3 years. It's true Intel has enormous resources but the are playing catchup in a sector they seemed to not fully understand until very recently.

I really wish I had bought some shares a few years ago! :)


June 1, 2011, 7:44 pm

What implications does this have for PC gaming?


June 2, 2011, 12:15 am

@ Armin - Don't worry about PC gaming; it's Armless

(...runs away rapidly)


June 2, 2011, 6:55 pm

I think it should be extremely worried. The fact AMD has little relevance to this feature shows the tight spot they are in. I wouldn't be surprised if the company moved to ARM designs in the next few years.


June 2, 2011, 6:56 pm

I'd still be buying ARM shares now ;)


June 2, 2011, 6:57 pm

I think PC gaming will become increasingly niche with consoles leading the way. There is vastly less piracy there and the feature set is locked. The days of £500 graphics cards will go.

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