ARM President Targets Mobile PC Domination


ARM officials aim to dominate the mobile PC market within four years, but are more cautious about servers

Executives at ARM, the company whose chip designs currently dominate the smartphone and tablet sectors, also expect to do the same in the PC sector, and to a lesser extent the server market.

During a press briefing at the Computex 2011 show in Taipei 30 May, ARM President Tudor Brown told journalists that the company expects that by 2015, half of all mobile PCs, including tablets and mini-PCs, will be powered by ARM-based chips, according to reports.

In addition, Brown said that while ARM-based servers may not ship in volume until 2015, they are coming.

Retaliatory Move?

In all, Brown made it clear that as Intel and AMD are looking to push into ARM’s stronghold, his company planned to take the competition into theirs.

“Today, we have about 10 percent market share [in mobile PCs]. By the end of 2011, we believe we will have about 15 percent of that market share as tablets grow,” Brown said, according to a report in PC World. “By 2015, we expect that to be over 50 percent of the mobile PC market.”

Meanwhile Intel executives at the Computex show on 31 May outlined an aggressive roadmap for its Core and Atom processors, which include features to improve performance and drive down power consumption, both critical issues for mobile devices. Intel officials already expect at least 35 system designs this year based on its Atom Z670 “Oak Trail” platform, and are saying more tablets and smartphones powered by Intel chips will hit the market starting in 2012.

In addition, reports say that AMD officials are working on a Z-Series chip lineup – dubbed “Desna” – in its Fusion line that will be targeted at tablets. Already Acer is using AMD’s C-50 chip in its new Iconia Tab W500 Windows tablet.

However, it’s an area that ARM designs – through chips built by the likes of Samsung, Nvidia, Texas Instruments and Qualcomm – dominate. And it’s that presence in the fast-growing tablet market that Brown and other ARM officials expect to use to grow its share of the overall mobile-computing space.

Microsoft Move

In addition, ARM will be helped by the decision by Microsoft – announced by CEO Steve Ballmer during the Consumer Electronics Show in January – to enable its next version of Windows to support SoC (system-on-a-chip) platforms like ARM’s. Like Intel, Microsoft also has had troubles penetrating the mobile-device space that is dominated by such operating systems as Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android. By enabling Windows to run on ARM-based devices, Microsoft officials are hoping for another way into the space.

ARM also is looking to make some noise in the server space, targeting systems used in cloud and other compute-intensive environments where the key demands are around performance and energy efficiency. ARM officials believe they have an advantage over Intel and AMD in such sectors, because those vendors’ chips consume more power than ARM’s. In December 2010, ARM CEO Warren East said he expected the company’s chip design to start eating into Intel’s huge market share by 2014.

During the Computex briefing, ARM’s Brown said it could take a little longer. He said he expects ARM-based servers to start hitting the market in volume in 2015.

“We firmly believe this is going to happen. We know it is starting to happen right now. But it’s going to be several years [for the numbers to reach significant levels],” Brown said, according to PC World.

Progress is being made, he said. ARM last year unveiled its Cortex-A15 chip design, which not only will offer five times the performance within the same power envelope as current chips, but also such crucial server features as support for virtualisation and 64-bit computing. In addition, there are a number of companies, including Marvell and Calxeda, that are looking to bring ARM’s chip designs into the data centre.

However, Brown said that an ecosystem – such as a sufficient number of business applications and hardware systems – must be in place for such servers to take off, and that creating such an ecosystem takes time.

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