ARM CEO: We'll Be Bigger Players in PCs Than Intel Will Be in Smartphones

ARM CEO Warren East says the notebook space will be a better opportunity for ARM than the crowded mobile chip market will be for Intel.

Intel may gain some share of the competitive smartphone space, but ARM will take a bigger bite out of the PC market, according to ARM executives.

Speaking to The Wall Street Journal May 17, ARM CEO Warren East said he expects that by 2014 or 2015, 10 percent to 20 percent of notebook PCs will be sporting low-power chips designed by ARM and made by manufacturers like Samsung Electronics, Qualcomm, Texas Instruments and Nvidia. Meanwhile, East said Intel would probably take about 5 percent to 10 percent of the smartphone space.

The two companies have been eyeing each other€™s markets for several years. Intel, which dominates the PC and server chip spaces, is looking to make inroads into the booming markets for smartphones and tablets. Intel this year is releasing its Ivy Bridge Core processors, which feature the new three-dimensional Tri-Gate transistor architecture that promises to improve the chips€™ performance while driving down power consumption.

At the same time, Intel also is ramping up the speed of innovation around its low-power Atom chip platform for smartphones and tablets. The company last month announced the first smartphone based on Intel technology, the XOLO X900 from Indian company Lava International, and other vendors, including Lenovo, Motorola Mobility, ZTE in China and Orange in France, have announced intentions of building Intel-based phones.

Intel CEO Paul Otellini said in April that he €œwould be disappointed if we're not a major player in a few years."

However, ARM€™s East told The Journal that the XOLO X900 was a €œperfectly adequate smartphone€ and that Intel will be a €œperfectly credible player€ in the space. However, he noted that there are almost two dozen other chip makers aiming at the smartphone space, making it difficult for one company to rise above everyone else.

"It's going to be quite hard for Intel to be much more than just one of several players," East said.

Meanwhile, the ARM CEO said he sees his company being able to make significant inroads into the PC space, particularly with the upcoming release of Microsoft€™s Windows 8 operating system, which for the first time will have a version€”dubbed Windows RT€”that will support non-x86 system-on-a-chip (SoC) architectures like ARM€™s. He said Windows RT may not have all the functionality of Windows 8, but that there is a portion of the consumer market where that won€™t matter.

"If you look at a lot of consumer PCs, people just want to run an Internet browser, an email package, some Office applications and Adobe Photoshop or something like that, and not much else," East said. "Therefore, we can put ARM processors into the heart of PCs to target a lot of the use requirements."

ARM-based chips also will be cheaper than Intel€™s, which will make them increasingly attractive to device makers who would see the profits on PCs rise, he said.

ARM and some of its manufacturing partners also are pushing to bring the low-power architecture to servers, another area dominated by Intel and smaller rival Advanced Micro Devices. ARM executives expect to begin making inroads into that market within the next couple of years, as chips based on its new Cortex-A15 design start coming on the market.

The company is targeting low-power servers that can be used in dense, massively populated data center environments running compute-intensive Web 2.0 and cloud workloads. ARM-based chip makers Marvell Technologies and Nvidia already have projects under way, and Calxeda is partnering with Hewlett-Packard to create low-power systems. Calxeda officials earlier this month demonstrated a prototype server running their ARM-based EnergyCore processors, and expect systems using the chips to become available later this year.

For its part, Intel is pushing the microserver form factor for its Core and Atom chips. In addition, the company is working on €œCenterton,€ an SoC platform targeting microservers that officials said will roll out in the second half of 2012. Microservers are expected to grow in popularity as Web 2.0 companies likes Google, Facebook and cloud providers build massive and very dense data centers with highly efficient servers that can process high numbers of small workloads.