Charles King, principal analyst with Pund-IT Research, said in a Dec. 11 research note that ARM and its partners deserve credit for their work in defining modern mobile computing with their power-efficient chips. King also acknowledged arguments by ARM proponents that the company's history of developing low-power chips for such devices as smartphones and tablets give it an edge in the developing microserver space.
However, he said ARM faces some difficult challenges, including that Intel is already in the market with a server-ready, low-power SoC, while ARM and its partners are still more than a year away. Some partners, like Calxeda and Marvell, already sell ARM-based server chips, but they're 32-bit products.
"Though ARM recently announced its next-generation 64-bit Cortex-A57 and Cortex-A53 processor designs, products based on the new architecture likely won't be available until late 2013 at the earliest (vendors, including AMD, have already stated that they plan to deliver Cortex-based silicon in 2014)," King wrote. "Since Intel's Atom road map includes new 22nm products (estimated for 2013) and future 14nm solutions, when the first 64-bit ARM processors finally do arrive in the marketplace, they'll be facing the second generation of Intel Atom designed specifically for microservers."
In addition, ARM supporters shouldn't overlook Intel's advantage in leveraging the x86 architecture.
"Why is this a big deal? For two reasons. First and foremost, current owners of Intel-compatible applications will be able to utilize those solutions in Atom S1200-based systems today and capture immediate microserver benefits," King wrote. "In addition, ISVs and other developers interested in exploring the microserver market won't be forced into porting or rewriting their applications and tools for various new (ARM) platforms."
However, the Atom SoCs could present some problems for Intel, according to Vijay Rakesh, an analyst with Sterne Agee. In a Dec. 12 research note, Rakesh said the new Atom platform "is a positive [sign] that Intel is recognizing the low-power server market," but added that at a price of $54 per 1,000 units, it could hurt the chip maker's margins by possibly undercutting sales of more expensive Xeons.