An ARM-based netbook running Ubuntu could be in your future with the newest version of Ubuntu Netbook Edition. Much like Windows, the popular Linux distro did not previously have support for ARM processors. This meant you’d only see Ubuntu on Atom-based netbooks, a category dominated by Windows. With the anticipated flood of ARM packing “smartbooks” expected to materialize, the devs got to work rewriting Ubuntu.
According to Ubuntu’s Jamie Bennet, the problem was that Ubuntu Netbook Edition required 3D graphics drivers that didn’t exist for ARM chips. They got around this by employing 2D Enlightenment Foundation Libraries to fake a 3D interface. We’re hearing that you won’t be able to tell the difference in the interface. If true, that’s a big win for smartbooks and Ubuntu.
This may be the space that Ubuntu specifically, and Linux in general, can succeed in. Windows is completely locked out of the smartbook game until such time as Redmond gets around to adding ARM support. Don’t expect that to happen anytime soon. Is an Ubuntu smartbook something you’d buy?
According to a report in the EETimes, NEC is gearing up to show off a high performance quad-core processor built around ARM's Cortex-A9 design. The unveiling is expected to take place during the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona next week.
If true, NEC would join a fraternity of companies claiming a quad-core chip based on ARM architecture. During CES, for example, Marvell Technology said it had developed the world's first quad-core ARM chip, but did not provide any details. Marvell's design is said to run faster than 1GHz, though it's unclear if the chip is a custom design or built around ARM's Cortex-A9.
It's safe to say that NEC has been chomping at the bit to release a quad-core Cortex-A9 chip. The company first introduced a multi-core ARM processor back in 2005, which was made up of four ARM11 processors and considered a test chip based on the ARMv6 instruction set, EETimes reports.
There are some interesting takes on the future of PCs, and then there’s Warren East’s take on the future of PCs. East is the CEO of ARM, which produces processors for mobile products, which offers good power and low energy consumption. According to East, not only will ARM processors become commonplace in the netbook market, but that the netbook market will come to represent 90 percent of the PC industry.
What’s particularly amazing about East’s projection of the future is that ARM’s processors lack Windows support. It’s going to be a pretty tough transition to ARM processors if they can’t run the dominate operating system for PCs.
Not a problem, says East. Yes, people love their Windows, but, he says, “the trajectory of progress in the Linux world is very, very impressive. I think it’s only a matter of time for ARM to gain market share with or without Microsoft.” So Linux, which currently has a market share smaller than Apple, is going to topple the Windows behemoth.
That’s not the only option, speculates Slashgear. It might be that the threat of Linux will force Microsoft to change--and rework Windows so it will support non-x86 hardware. Slashgear points to Texas Instruments’ OMAP4, NVIDIA’s Tegra 2, and Qualcomm’s Snapdragon, in addition to ARM, as hints of a non-Intel/AMD future. Microsoft may have to adapt or die.
And ARM has an advantage over the Intel-Microsoft option: it’s cheaper. Because of cost efficiencies, Robert Castellano of Seeking Alpha, predicts ARM processors will have a 55 percent share of the netbook market by 2012.
East may be onto something here. But if it comes to pass, what will gamers be left with? It’s hard to imaging running Crysis, at any frame rate, on a netbook--even one from the future.
ARM's Cortex family will welcome three new additions in 2010, EETimes reports. Currently all we have are codenames to go on, but these will include 'Eagle,' which will be a high-performance Cortex A-class part, 'Heron,,' an embedded and real-time Cortex R-class chip, and 'Merlin,' a novel core for ARM's Cortex-M series.
"Lead licensing is in place on all of them. We are within about 18 months of finishing the designs," said Warren East, chief executive officer of ARM.
East went on to say that the three new processors are being designed to offer different, rather than better performance.
"In all three cases, they will sit alongside the existing products for some time to come," East added.
Even so, the Eagle core will sit above the Cortex-A9 as ARM's flagship processor in terms of performance. Expect to see Eagle in a variety of devices, including smartphones, mobile computing, digital televisions, and communications infrastructure applications.
If you follow trends at all, then it's not too hard to figure out what the current one is. In recent times, first it was netbooks that stole the show, followed by e-book readers, and now tablet PCs are all the talk. Enter Asus, who along with MSI (see here), has no intention of letting Apple corner the market.
Like MSI's unit, Asus' Eee Tablet (or whatever it will be called) will tap into Tegra, and specifically Tegra 2. But it will also sport a dual-core ARM Cortex 9 based processor with support for multitasking. In other words, you can expect a fairly powerful tablet capable of full 1080p HD playback, which makes the HDMI connector a most welcome addition.
What we don't know is how much it will cost, and probably won't have those details until CeBit, which kicks off in early March.
Most netbooks and other ultra-mobile PCs currently run on Intel’s Atom x86 chips, but according to Analytics firm ABI, they shouldn’t get too used to being on top. In a new report, ABI is claiming that ARM-based chips will overtake Intel by 2013. ARM has been pushing for the opportunity to power non-smartphone devices for some time now. In October they introduced the Cortex A5 MP architecture, which they claim can efficiently power a netbook style device.
Intel is not currently sweating bullets, but they may be gearing up for a fight. Intel has established an Atom developer program to push the platform further. The chip maker has also unveiled plans to sell a version of the Atom intended for smartphones called the Moorestown. This is a direct challenge to ARM on their home turf.
The dominance of ARM is far from a sure thing, though. Rival analytics firm IDC has stated that ARM-based netbooks are unlikely to capture more than 10-20% of the market. They cited manufacturers’ tight relationships with Intel. Also, Windows does not currently support ARM chips. Since Windows is the dominant platform even on netbooks, the future for ARM netbooks is still hazy. If Linux netbooks took off, as Robert Castellano of The Information Network predicted last year, ARM would definitely have an in. Linux just needs to have its year. Hey, it could happen.
Talk about a potential turnaround. As it currently stands, some 90 percent of ultra-mobile devices (UMDs) shipped in 2009 sport a x86 processor inside, leaving little room for other architectures. But according to ABI Research, the introduction of ARM-based systems is set to shake things up, and in a big way. ABI says that by 2013, UMD shipments of netbooks, MIDs, smartbooks, and UMPCs based on the ARM architecture will jump ahead of x86-based devices.
"The important netbook segment of the UMD market is now moving into its second generation, and a growing number of netbooks based on ARM platforms are now appearing in the market, a trend no doubt helped by the perception that ARM-based systems are heavily oriented towards an 'always connected' mode of operation," ABI Research says. "Additionally, ARM-based products are coming out in a growing variety of different form-factors including tablets."
Jeff Orr, a senior analyst with ABI, describes the movement as "not a tidal wave, but a rising tide." He's referring to the growing number of laptops and netbooks with embedded or attached modems, which have contributed to a "significantly greater amount of traffic to 3G networks than smartphones do," a further sign that ARM processors are taking over, he says.
Qualcomm's ARM-based Snapdragon chipset is ideal for a lot of different types of devices and form factors. Don't be surprised if you come across smartphones, smartbooks, slate PCs and netbooks all powered by the Snapdragon. We already know that the Google Nexus One is driven by a powerful 1GHz Snapdragon processor. But Qualcomm plans to up the ante with the addition of even more powerful processors to its Snapdragon line. Luis Pineda, SVP of product management for Qualcomm, told tech website Hexus that his company will unveil two new processors this year.
As per the Snapdragon roadmap, a 45nm Snapdragon clocked at 1.3GHz will reach manufacturers later this month, with products based on it debuting around the end of the year. A yet more powerful variant will be unveiled before Christmas in the form of the 8X72, a dual-core 1.5 GHz chip, which will let smartphones and smartbooks keep people entertained with 1080p video playback.
He went on to add that an increasing number of netbook users are opting for Windows 7 ahead of cheaper alternatives. After having slammed the door on a Windows 7 ARM port, he left a small window open by suggesting that smartbook vendors can use the ARM-compatible Windows CE instead. Microsoft's current reluctance to offer a Windows 7 ARM port probably stems from potential technical bottlenecks as much as its commitment to Intel.
ARM designs microprocessors, then licenses the designs to manufacturing. Most cell phones currently use ARM chips, but ARM isn’t content with owning just that market. They hope the new chip will find its way into other products, possibly in direct competition with Intel. The Cortex-A5 is fast enough to run a laptop or netbook, though Windows does not currently run on ARM chips.
Cortex-A5 chips are expected to run at clock speeds in the gigahertz range, and draw only 80 milliwatts of power. This should provide better performance and power efficiency than upcoming Intel chips. The first products with the new design should begin showing up sometime in 2011.