In the desktop world, Intel is where ARM (and every other chip maker) would like to be, and the reverse is probably true in the mobile handheld market. It's true that Intel dominates the netbook category, but it's ARM that has a jump on tablets. And guess what? ARM isn't all that concerned with Intel encroaching on its territory.
Nvidia turned more than a few heads earlier this year at CES when it announced plans to develop its own graphics-enabled microprocessor (MPU) using ARM technology, a decision that so far has been met with optimism by industry analysts, including iSuppli's Matthew Wilkins.
"Nvidia's entry into the microprocessor segment makes sense, despite the current market dominance of Intel and AMD," said Matthew Wilkins, principal analyst for compute platforms at IHS. "In notebook PCs alone, IHS iSuppli research forecasts the penetration rate for graphics-enabled MPUs will increase to 82.9 percent by 2014, up from 39 percent in 2010. This presents an opening for Nvidia to make inroads into the MPU market."
The obvious challenge here is in software. Nvidia has steadfastly denied plans to develop a x86 processor, and going with ARM's architecture will prove an uphill battle, albeit not as steep as, say, 12 months ago. Microsoft is building a version of Windows for ARM hardware, and also plans to port its Office productivity suite over as well. Between Nvidia's hardware and Microsoft's software support, it's conceivable that developers will make the jump without dragging their feet.
Perennially beleaguered chip maker AMD announced Monday that Dirk Meyer is no longer the company’s CEO. Until it finds a permanent replacement, Chief Financial Officer Thomas Seifert will serve as the firm’s acting CEO. The abruptness of Meyer’s resignation has left a lot of room for speculation. AMD’s perfunctorily terse explanation hasn’t helped either. Meyer’s resignation was the result of a mutual agreement between the board and the former CEO was all that the company was willing to say.
"Dirk became CEO during difficult times. He successfully stabilized AMD while simultaneously concluding strategic initiatives including the launch of GlobalFoundries, the successful settlement of our litigation with Intel and delivering Fusion APUs to the market,” said AMD chairman Bruce Claflin about the former CEO’s accomplishments.
"However, the Board believes we have the opportunity to create increased shareholder value over time. This will require the company to have significant growth, establish market leadership and generate superior financial returns. We believe a change in leadership at this time will accelerate the company's ability to accomplish these objectives."
Speculation is rife that Meyer’s failure to gauge the growing importance of the mobile market could have been a major reason for his ouster. Under Meyer, AMD adamantly refused to shed its inexplicable apathy towards increasingly important device segments like netbooks, smartphones and, most recently, tablets.
It’s the end of Wintel. At least, that’s what you’re likely to read this morning after Microsoft dropped the bomb shell that the next version of Windows will run not just on x86, but also on select ARM chips.
Microsoft CEO made the revelation Wednesday night at the pre-CES keynote and immediately set the industry abuzz over the ramifications of Windows running on ARM. The company then promptly demonstrated an early pre-alpha version of Windows running on ARM hardware from Texas Instruments, Qualcomm and an Nvidia.
Among the demos: The next-gen Windows on ARM running an ARM-version of Microsoft Word and printing to an Epson printer as well as the Nvidia Tegra 2 part running HD video and running a browser.
Ballmer said Microsoft isn’t turning its back on x86, but it wants to have the ability to provide Windows on everything from big screens to small screen. “Whatever device you use, now or in the future, Windows will be there,” Ballmer said.
The version demonstrated was “real Windows” running on ARM and not something emulated officials said. Still, hard details were missing such as when the OS would be available or just what features of Windows would be available on ARM. Would it be a super stripped down? What API’s would be supported? Will vendors really recompile or rewire x86 applications for ARM? None of that is known yet.
It's that time of the year again. And by that we mean it's time for us to say, "So long, suckers!"
We've got two very special All-Rant podcasts coming up, of which this is but the first. Gordon, Andy, and Nathan got together right before heading home for the holidays to record a brand-new half-podcast, in which much is discussed, including our great predictions for 2011, Windows on ARM, the Kobiyashi Maru, and a live, never-before-heard Rant of the Week. And then there's about an hour of the best of Gordon's Rants of the Week. Next week: more of this sort of thing!
Do you have a tech question? A comment? A tale of technological triumph? Just need to get something off your chest? A secret to share? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call our 24-hour No BS Podcast hotline at 877.404.1337 x1337--operators are not standing by.
Well here's an interesting development. According to a Bloomberg report, Microsoft plans to announce a version of Windows that will run on ARM processors for the first time ever.
Assuming Bloomberg's sources know what they're talking about, Microsoft will make the stunning announcement at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas next month. The sources say the specialized version of Windows would be customized for battery-powered devices, like tablet PCs and other handhelds.
This would be great news for ARM, whose stock rose 6.6 percent after word got out, but what about Intel? The upcoming software will also work with Intel and AMD processors, both of which would like to tap into the emerging tablet market. Intel has already made a push with its Atom processor line, but this would clearly benefit ARM more than any other chip maker.
Texas Instruments claims to have raised the bar for mobile design with the launch of its new OMAP4440 applications processor, a dual-core chip ARMed with a pair of Cortex A9 cores and two Cortex M3 cores.
Also included is a POWERVR 3D graphics engine with support for 1080p stereoscopic 3D playback, as well as a dizzying amount of claimed performance improvements over the OMAP4430 architecture. Some of these include:
1.25x increase in graphics performance
30 percent decrease in webpage load times
2x increase in 1080p video playback
Improved video quality in low-light conditions
"The increased performance given by the OMAP4440 applications processor illustrates TI's ability to push mobile computing possibilities with the right processor architecture enveloped in the right platform," said Remi El-Ouazzane, vice president, OMAP platform business unit, TI. "We seized an opportunity to enhance the platform capabilities driving the OMAP4430 processor's success today."
Texas Instruments will begin sampling its new chip in the first quarter of 2011, with production expected in the second half of next year.
ARM Holdings’ server ambitions have become more pronounced lately. The company recently announced the server-friendly Cortex A15 processor, which it claims is the “highest-performance licensable processor the industry has ever seen.” Now there are murmurs of the company getting ready to hurl 64-bit processor cores at the server market. According to a report, the British chip designer could announce its first 64-bit processor in the next few weeks, and possibly as early as next week. But the company isn’t willing to comment on its future plans.
ARM CEO Warren East recently told the New York Times that the British chip designer will never be a “$100 billion outfit” like Intel. That humility is no pretense when one takes into account the vast gulf between the two. Moreover, ARM’s business model of licensing chip designs to others is unlikely to help it bridge that gap. The few cents it earns as royalty on every chip based on its design gives it an air of largesse of the kind associated with nonprofits. That said, the threat to Intel rises each time an ARM-based chip makes it into a new device or market.
Maybe the toughest part about being the world's No. 1 chip maker is that everyone's gunning for your market share. That's certainly the case with Intel, which not only has to fend off AMD, but a suddenly spunky ARM corporation as well.
ARM, which has plans of being a major player in the emerging tablet market, is also reportedly in talks with Google over supplying chips for Google TV, according to Yahoo News.
"We are talking to Google, but we have nothing to announce right now," said Tudor Brown, President of ARM.
The Google TV platform comes with a rather strict set of hardware requirements, one of those being an Intel Atom processor. Part of what's interesting in this potential development is that ARM builds RISC (Reduced Instruction Set Computing) chips, whereas Intel's Atom part is built on the tried and true x86 architecture. Making a switch post-launch would mean rewriting some of the software.
Nevertheless, Brown feels confident his company's low-power processors are the better fit for Google TV
"If Google TV is to be mainstream, it must be built on a lower power system... on lower cost technology," Brown said.
AMD, Intel, and Nvidia rule the desktop graphics scene, but in the consumer electronics world, ARM flexes its muscle with the best of them. Towards that end, ARM today unveiled its new Mali T604 GPU with up to 5 times better performance than current Mali graphics chips, the company claims.
"Visual computing is driving the next generation of consumer electronics, as consumers and developers demand the highest levels of graphics performance," said Lance Howarth, EVP and general manager, Media Processing Division, ARM. "The tri-pipe architecture in the Mali T604 provides both market leading compute functionality and high-performance graphics without compromise, enabling unequaled user experiences in energy-efficient consumer electronic devices."
As Howarth aludes to, the scalable, multicore chip employs an tri-pipe graphics architecture that, along with other patented techniques, reduces memory bandwidth consumption by up to 30 percent, which ARM says substantially improves system level energy efficiency.
The Mali T604 chip will find its way into a variety of CE devices, including smartphones, tablets, DTVs, automotive infotainment systems, and other high-end digital gadgets. That's good news, given the GPU's supposed ability to process 4X full scene anti-aliasing (FSAA) "with minimal performance drop."