PCs to Carry Side-ARMs: How ARM Will Impact PC Market

The continuing battle between Intel and AMD over supplying the brains of your PC continues unabated. While Intel clearly has the upper hand in client processors and AMD is playing catch-up, there is another battle brewing for PC processors, particularly in notebooks. Here, Knowledge Center analyst Jack E. Gold discusses the battle for the "secondary" processor and how this battle will not pit Intel against AMD, but rather, x86 architecture against ARM. And it's not looking good for x86.


Dell recently announced Latitude ON, a feature first made available on its new Z notebook and on select E-series, but to be made available on most Latitudes going forward. Its primary mission is to allow "instant on" access to e-mail, calendar and the Web without requiring full boot-up of the machine. This is similar to Microsoft's Windows SideShow, first made available in Vista but which never went anywhere.

But the features of Latitude ON take it well beyond SideShow's, which required not only a peripheral processor but also a secondary LCD screen. Latitude ON runs a peripheral processor, in this case an ARM-based chip from Texas Instruments, with a Linux operating system kernel and a Citrix Receiver client for application enablement (while also allowing administrators to securely access the machine resources).

It runs a version of the Firefox browser for Web surfing and provides direct connection to Exchange, GroupWise or IMAP/POP3 e-mail systems through direct memory access. Also included is a dedicated document viewer for Word, Excel, PowerPoint and PDF files, dedicated Wi-Fi and a VPN for secure connectivity. In essence, what Dell has done with Latitude ON is provide an embedded "smartphone-lite" device that uses the main screen, keyboard, power and memory systems.

Latitude ON provides an interesting example of what can be added to machines to extend user convenience for relatively small cost. It's included on Z and is a $199 option on E4200 and E4300, but we estimate the additional cost to Dell to be $50 to $70.

However, this capability is not new. Lenovo has offered a similar ARM-based coprocessor system for about six months, albeit as an add-on Express Card compared to Dell's built-onto-the-motherboard approach. Lenovo's Constant Connect function is similar to Latitude ON but uses a connection via Bluetooth to a BlackBerry for e-mail, and Constant Protect is a security-related enhancement that adds Yoggie System's firewall and anti-malware/intrusion protection capabilities to monitor all incoming and outgoing traffic.