Intel's aggressive push at this week's Consumer Electronics Show into the mobile computing space made headlines, but did not impress the head of ARM Holdings, whose low-power chip designs are found in most smartphones and tablets.
In an interview with Reuters at CES in Las Vegas, ARM CEO Warren East called Intel's efforts in the low-power chip space-including its upcoming Atom "Medfield" platform-"good enough," and said that while Intel may get some design wins, it won't threaten ARM's dominance in the booming market.
"It's inevitable Intel will get a few smartphone design wins," East told Reuters. "We regard Intel as a serious competitor. Are they ever going to be the leaders in power efficiency? No, of course not. But they have a lot more to offer."
Intel executives at CES announced Jan. 10 that as part of a multiyear deal with Motorola Mobility, the phone maker will begin selling smartphones powered by the Atom Z2460 Medfield platform and running Google's Android operating system in the second half of 2012. In addition, Lenovo officials at the show showed off the very first Intel Atom smartphone, the Android-based Lenovo K800, which will launch in China in the second quarter. There was no word on when it will reach the United States.
During his CES keynote, Intel President and CEO Paul Otellini touted the Motorola partnership, saying it will be a key factor in Intel's mobile computing strategy and in its looming competition with ARM.
"We expect the combination of our companies to break new ground and bring the very best of computing capabilities to smartphones and tablets," Otellini said.
In his interview with Reuters, ARM's East noted that Intel is coming into the space at a disadvantage, trying to take its traditional x86 architecture that was used for years in servers and PCs and rework it to meet the low-power demands of smartphones and tablets. That will only get Intel so far, he said.
"They [Intel] have taken some designs that were never meant for mobile phones, and they've literally wrenched those designs and put them into a power-performance space which is roughly good enough for mobile phones," East said.
Intel and ARM have been moving closer to each other over the past year, with Intel eyeing the booming mobile device space and ARM and its manufacturing partners-including Qualcomm, Nvidia, Marvell, Samsung and Calxeda-looking to push the ARM architecture up the ladder and into the PC and low-power server markets. ARM currently licenses its designs to 275 chip makers.
At CES, Qualcomm CEO Paul Jacobs touted the company's upcoming S4 Snapdragon chip, demonstrating a tablet powered by the chip and running Microsoft's Windows 8 operating system. Windows 8, due out sometime this year, will support both x86 architectures from Intel and Advanced Micro Devices as well as ARM's architecture. That will enable chip makers like Qualcomm, Samsung and others to compete directly with Intel and AMD.
In the smartphone and tablet space, low power is always what's most important, and it's where Intel will always lag behind ARM and its partners, East said.
"People want to do more things with their phones, but battery size remains constant," he said. "It's like having a car with a fixed-size fuel tank and you want to drive 100 more miles. You've got to make the engine more efficient. That's what we do for a living."