eWEEK at 30: Intel, ARM Ramping Up Rivalry in Mobile, Server Markets
Also at the show, Intel officials said the company was partnering with Lenovo, Asus, Dell and Foxconn to put the company's chips in smartphones and tablets in 2014. CEO Brian Krzanich also has said that he expects hardware makers to deliver 40 million tablets equipped with Intel chips by the end of the year. Whether that comes to pass remains to be seen, but Pund-IT's King said Intel has strengths it can rely on. Often in mobile, the debate is technological, with the critical point for chips in the space to be able to support highly computational processes while also being very energy-efficient. However, there's also a financial side to it. "Yes, device makers do want chips with these features, but if Intel can create a chip that offers 90 percent of ARM chip capabilities and sell them at a significant discount," that may be good enough for some OEMs, he said. Intel also is being smart in targeting emerging markets for devices running on their chips rather than aiming for regions like the United States and Western Europe, where smartphones and tablets are closer to a saturation point, he said. King also noted that Intel has shown it can play "the long game." He noted that when AMD released the 64-bit x86 Opteron server chips in 2003, it captured about a quarter of the server market before Intel could sufficiently respond almost two years later. Now Intel's server market share is north of 90 percent.The potential rewards are high. If Intel could establish itself as a strong second in a market where almost 1 billion smartphones were shipped last year, it could translate into billions of dollars in sales, he said. For its part, ARM is trying to muscle into Intel's territory in both PCs and servers. ARM has seen some success in the PC market; Hewlett-Packard, Samsung, Dell and other OEMs are rolling out Chromebooks that are powered by ARM chips. However, Microsoft's ARM-based Surface RT Windows tablets have had trouble in the marketplace, with consumers preferring the Surface devices that run on Intel chips. Now ARM is gearing up to launch its ARMv8-A architecture in 2014, which will include data center features like 64-bit computing, more memory capacity and greater virtualization support. Officials with ARM and their supporters have talked for several years about the opportunity available in the data center, particularly given the growth of hyperscale environments run by the likes of Google, Facebook and Microsoft, who run thousands to millions of servers that process massive numbers of small tasks. In such dense data centers, energy efficiency is often more important than sheer performance. This is where ARM officials believe they can gain some traction. They have some top-tier OEMs in Dell and HP that are looking to put ARM-based chips into new microservers they are developing. An array of chip makers—including AMD, Samsung, Qualcomm, Nvidia, Applied Micro and Marvell Technologies—are working to leverage the new architecture for server SoCs. They also have a growing number of software makers—from Microsoft and Red Hat to SUSE and Canonical—throwing their support behind ARM by helping create a software ecosystem to support the servers when they begin launching later this year, according to Lakshmi Mandyam, director of ARM's Server and Ecosystems unit.
However, that was a server market that Intel already dominated at the time. Intel's challenge in mobile is different because it is the underdog fighting a dominant market leader, an unfamiliar position for the chip giant. Still, Intel comes with resources and talent and its current market position can be helped by the typical 18- to 24-month turnaround time for new smartphones and tablets. The churn rate will keep the demand high for the devices, giving Intel a better opportunity to get a solid footing in the market, King said.