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ARM launches attack on Intel's netbook stranglehold

Laptop

By Barry Collins

Posted on 16 Sep 2009 at 10:00

British chip designer ARM is launching an outright attack on Intel with the launch of a 2GHz processor aimed at everything from netbooks to servers.

ARM claims the 40nm Cortex A9 MPCore processor represents a shift in strategy for the company, which has until now concentrated on low-power processors for mobile devices.

"In the past we've very much focused on wireless - it's been all about power efficiency," Eric Schom, ARM's vice president of marketing told PC Pro. "In this case we've taken off the handcuffs and made performance our primary goal."

It's head and shoulders above anything Intel can deliver today

In the consumer market, ARM is pitching the Cortex A9 directly against Intel's Atom, claiming the processor offers five times the power while only drawing comparable amounts of energy. "It's head and shoulders above anything Intel can deliver today," Schom boasts.

Schom claims the processor's physical size has helped reduce power consumption. "If you just look at an [Intel] Atom by itself, our processor is a third of the size, so the amount of silicon it consumes is significantly less and that reduces cost," Schom said.

ARM also claims its processors will be better for manufacturers and consumers, because it won't place restrictions on netbook specifications in the same way that Intel does with Atom. "It [Intel] has restrictions on screen size and USB ports and other artificial limits - we won't do that," he said. "We're allowing our diverse partnerships to go and innovate."

Where's the Windows?

We've had conversations with Microsoft and you can imagine what they entail

The one huge disadvantage ARM faces is that its processors are incompatible with Windows. Although Linux was the operating system of choice when netbooks first burst on to the scene, a combination of consumer confusion and Microsoft's marketing muscle has driven alternative OSes back to the fringes.

ARM admits it's a problem. "We have work to do - that's absolutely true," Schom said. "We've had conversations with Microsoft and you can imagine what they entail."

Nevertheless, netbook manufacturers running the ARM processor will be forced to adopt an alternative such as Google's Android, Windows CE or even Windows Mobile. The forthcoming Google Chrome OS is also slated to support ARM processors, although Schom claims there has been no specific discussions with Google over netbooks based on the Cortex A9.

Long-term plans

Netbooks aren't the only devices ARM wants to see running the Cortex A9. In the consumer market, set-top boxes and televisions are two other potential outlets, while the company's also keen to push the chips into back office hardware such as servers. The Cortex A9 should be finalised by the end of this year, with production samples starting to arrive at the beginning of 2010.

And what of the future? Is ARM planning further forays into a PC market that has long been dominated by only two companies: Intel and AMD? "They [Intel and AMD] are coming down and we're going up," said Schom. "We aspire to take our technology up further and further."

The duopoly had better keep one eye on the rear-view mirror.

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User comments

ARM has always been better

As a former Archimedes owner, I would look forward to an ARM PC.

Frankly the old Archimedes PC emulator was nearly as fast as running the IBM PS2 model 30 of the time.

If ARM were smart, they'd be looking at some way of getting retail Windows to run on their CPU. Firmware emulator, software layer, whatever works.

By cheysuli on 16 Sep 2009

Small firms don't survive?

Unless they are very GOOD. ARM is a very small company in the Silicon industry but they have built an amazing reputation on their products. The 8086 processor won due to a chance combination of factors and quality was one of them. ARM survived by being very good at what they do. Intel have stumbled along just being good enough sometimes leading the pack (of 2) but relying on their size and dominance to get them through. It is time ARM took on Intel in the pc market, they should win on cost, quality and performance per Watt, but it is the Microsoft/Linux factor that may influence the out come.

By M_Hamer on 16 Sep 2009

I would love to see this happen.

I think it would be great to see ARM processors inside Windows and Apple laptops. I know it probably won't happen because they don't want to deal with emulation of code for other processor types, but Apple has already shown that it can be done and done well. Maybe my laptop wouldn't burn my legs off if it were running on an ARM processor? I also think speed is less of an issue today since even the Atom provides plenty of speed for the average user.

By adric22 on 16 Sep 2009

Use a virtual machine

All you have to do to run windows is run a virtual machine, eg virtualbox!

By gfmoore on 16 Sep 2009

Windows Advantage?

I don't consider running Windows an advantage; its a bloated, drm and virus infested OS that incapable of getting out of its own way. Every time I use it my blood pressure goes up. Click and wait, click and wait; just too horrible.

By edwardv on 16 Sep 2009

Seriously

Please, if ARM were to emulate the X86 instruction set it would destroy the performance and with it their hard earned reputation. Apple use standard X86 hardware and remove this problem.

ARM are still around because they have the dominant architecture (Intel did have an ARM license for their xScale chip)

The best hope they have is for a Windows or Android complete port or for Windows mobile 7 to be useable on a tablet type device.

By JStairmand on 16 Sep 2009

Arm inside???

How many people are going to buy a laptop/netbook with an arm inside???

'Yes madame it has an arm inside'

'an arm inside? what on earth is that for???'

By SimonCorlett on 17 Sep 2009

al ARM ed MS

Microsoft should be very concerned that their mainstream operating systems are not capable of running on a system sporting the Cortex A9 or any other adaptation of the ARM architecture!

With various Linux operating systems becoming more common place on notebooks and Netbooks, due to their reduced hardware needs and cost, Microsoft needs to be wary of this SUPER CPU, which by itself could pull people away from their more popular operating systems.

ARM’s Cortex A9 will cost little to produce, have low power consumption, generate little heat and offer more compatibility than rival CPU’s. It’s a no brainer that Notebook manufacturers will adopt this new CPU – to survive, they have to. Any manufacturer that does not will pay more for an inferior product. Try passing on additional costs to frugal customers in this market and you will go bust.

The Cortex A9 will sell and there is an advantage to running Linux; it’s free!
If manufacturers can save money by using a cheaper yet more powerful and more advanced CPU and also get away with putting a free operating system onto the notebook their products will cost considerably less and will sell. I say Notebook because anything with a Cortex A9 would be too powerful to be considered a Netbook!

With the reasonable success of Android and potential success of Google's Chrome, that will likely launch around shortly after the Cortex A9, Microsoft, AMD and Intel should be even more concerned. There is a huge potential that this CPU could pull people away from the desktop as we know it. A similar argument applies here; why have an expensive CPU and Operating System to surf the web, work online, or write a letter when sitting at your desk?

From a business point of view it will make sense to have the ARM Cortex A9.

By skgiven on 17 Sep 2009

al ARM ed MS

Microsoft should be very concerned that their mainstream operating systems are not capable of running on a system sporting the Cortex A9 or any other adaptation of the ARM architecture!

With various Linux operating systems becoming more common place on notebooks and Netbooks, due to their reduced hardware needs and cost, Microsoft needs to be wary of this SUPER CPU, which by itself could pull people away from their more popular operating systems.

ARM’s Cortex A9 will cost little to produce, have low power consumption, generate little heat and offer more compatibility than rival CPU’s. It’s a no brainer that Notebook manufacturers will adopt this new CPU – to survive, they have to. Any manufacturer that does not will pay more for an inferior product. Try passing on additional costs to frugal customers in this market and you will go bust.

The Cortex A9 will sell and there is an advantage to running Linux; it’s free!
If manufacturers can save money by using a cheaper yet more powerful and more advanced CPU and also get away with putting a free operating system onto the notebook their products will cost considerably less and will sell. I say Notebook because anything with a Cortex A9 would be too powerful to be considered a Netbook!

With the reasonable success of Android and potential success of Google's Chrome, that will likely launch around shortly after the Cortex A9, Microsoft, AMD and Intel should be even more concerned. There is a huge potential that this CPU could pull people away from the desktop as we know it. A similar argument applies here; why have an expensive CPU and Operating System to surf the web, work online, or write a letter when sitting at your desk?

From a business point of view it will make sense to have the ARM Cortex A9.

By skgiven on 17 Sep 2009

Arm Processor

The only worry ARM may have is American big business. The main computer market is the US, when Acorn Computers, (former Arm trading title), entered the US market their competitors quickly saw them off, despite them having a technically superior product.
Some of you may remember the Arm Processor that could run on a couple of AA cells and had a built in operating system, was considerably faster than anything Intel had, with the added bonus the operating system couldn't be corrupted, no viruses.
Big business heads American politics, serious competitors are quickly sent packing via the politcal dirty tricks department.

By gerryhunt3 on 17 Sep 2009

Ion for ARM Cortex A9?

Now put the ARM Cortex A9 with the Nvidia Ion platform, or a modified version for the ARM chip (if required, I'm not an expert in these matters) and you'll have some serious computing power and graphical clout with a minimal power requirement. Portable computing nirvana. And don't wait for windows for ARM architecture, I'm already using linux and enjoy doing so.

By iclbmc1 on 17 Sep 2009

Desktop Systems are declining

and the mobile landscape is on the increase. Dominated by one chip. ARM have around 9 billion chips in use today. Who gives a toss about wintel on mobiles? x86 sucks.
Finally, hardcore Acorn users might see realistic prices for hardware. Go check out the prices on Aleph One's website or the Iyonix Machine.

By technogeist on 17 Sep 2009

Market share

ARM just need a foot into the Intel/AMD market range. For the company it is not essential to take a huge chunk of the market outright. ARM needs to be able to grow, and market share will naturally rise. ARM will inevitably eat into systems built to run Linux, being 5 times as fast and costing less than the alternatives. ARMs ability to take on the big two will be progressive. They have 10 years on Intel and AMD and are themselves developing more CPUs.
Anyone designing a system to run Linux will have to use the ARM to stay competitive, there is just no choice. When Googles Operating system is finally released ARM will again be the obvious choice for the CPU.
I fear for Microsoft if they dont work something out. Today ARM CPUs encompass the mobile market, wireless devices and many small electronic systems that you use every day. They are moving into other handheld and netbooks type devices now, with laptops and workstations soon to follow. The future will see single, dual and quad core ARM CPUs in many workstations. Four 2GHz cores will be plenty for most laptops and desktops. The only systems that Microsoft can be sure of maintaining operating system dominance on are gaming systems and servers. Microsoft will lose some market share to Google, and the various Linux platforms no matter what happens, but cant afford to risk not facilitating the ARM CPUs.

By skgiven on 22 Oct 2009

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