The announcement of a pair of 2GHz dual-core processors from ARM has drawn speculation over a new chip war with Intel in the netbook space, despite the fact that products based on the chips are not likely to appear for at least another year.ARM this week announced the development of two processor designs using a hard macro implementation of its Cortex-A9 MPCore. These will enable licensees to produce chips operating at frequencies greater than 2GHz, according to ARM.However, the first silicon is not expected until the first quarter of 2010, and devices based on the chips are not due until the end of 2010 or early 2011, according to ARM.By then, Intel's Atom will have moved on. A next-generation chip, codenamed Pineview, is set to halve the power consumption of current Atom chips and is due for release later this year, according to some reports.Traditionally, ARM's chips have focused on energy efficiency, which has seen the ARM architecture become the standard for battery-operated devices such as smartphones. But they have always lacked the performance to match Intel's x86 processors.The new designs switch to a focus on performance, and the hard macro implementation offers chipmakers a shortcut to producing ARM chips that could appeal to markets beyond the mobile and embedded space."ARM's development of advanced, optimised physical IP components demonstrates a new level of collaborative differentiation while enabling our partners to expand their penetration into high-margin domains traditionally occupied by proprietary architectures," said ARM vice president of marketing Eric Schorn in a statement.However, ARM's announcement notably avoids the word 'netbook', mentioning instead "thermally constrained applications such as set-top boxes, digital t elevisions, printers and other feature-rich consumer and high-density enterprise applications".Instead, the new chips are most likely to find a home in devices that fit somewhere between phones and netbooks, according to Gartner analyst Jon Erensen. "Until now, smartphones and pocket-sized devices have been dominated by ARM, while netbooks are clearly dominated by Intel. There's a middle ground between them where there could be competition - mobile internet devices and smartbooks, things that have full internet and better multimedia than you would expect in a smartphone," he said.But Gartner does not expect to see Intel chips in phone-like devices for at least a couple of years, and also does not see ARM making headway in netbooks because there is "no version of Windows on ARM".However, with Intel trying to drive down power consumption and ARM pushing up the performance of its chips, there may be a convergence in a few years."By 2012 you might start to see ARM and Intel moving into each other's strongpoints," said Erensen.
Issue: 315 | May 2013
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