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ARM: our netbooks will fly with or without Windows

Netbooks

By Barry Collins

Posted on 3 Feb 2010 at 07:30

ARM chief executive Warren East has claimed that netbooks could swallow 90% of the PC market, in an exclusive interview with PC Pro.

The British chip design firm, which is the biggest rival to Intel's dominant Atom processors in the netbook space, claims the low-budget laptops could transform the PC market. And East says the chip firm will succeed "with our without" Windows support for its processors.

"Although netbooks are small today – maybe 10% of the PC market at most – we believe over the next several years that could completely change around and that could be 90% of the PC market," said East. "We see those products as an area for a lot of innovation and we want that innovation to be happening around the ARM architecture."

There’s not really a huge amount of point in us knocking on Microsoft’s door

East claims ARM already has several processors inside the typical netbook, but it wants the final piece of the jigsaw - the CPU. "Let’s say you go and buy a laptop today. You’ll find the application processor is an Intel device or an AMD device. Typically you’ll also be buying two or three ARM microprocessors," East claimed.

"Chances are it’s an ARM in the Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. More often than not there’s an ARM in the hard disk drive and sometimes there’s an ARM in the integrated camera as well. Not to mention the ARM that’s in the printer that you may or may not have bought to go with it."

"Right now there’s only one microprocessor in the PC that probably isn’t ARM and that’s the applications processor. Certainly what we’re talking about over the next few years – particularly with netbooks, not with PCs – is the opportunity for those to be ARM."

No point in chasing Windows

One significant barrier to ARM CPUs in netbooks is Windows' lack of support for the company's processors. East admits it's a problem. "If we were to wake up tomorrow and find Windows support for ARM it would certainly accelerate ARM penetration in that space," he said.

"What’s holding it back is people’s love of the Microsoft operating system and that fact that it’s familiar and so on. But actually 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."

And the ARM boss claims he's not pestering Microsoft to broaden Windows' processor support. "There’s not really a huge amount of point in us knocking on Microsoft’s door," he said. "Microsoft knows us very well, it’s worked with us for the past 12 years, all its mobile products are based on ARM.

"It’s really an operational decision for Microsoft to make. I don’t think there’s any major technical barriers. Microsoft’s well aware of the technical support we can provide to them, but it is an operational challenge for them, and one that only they can work out. We can’t really help them with it."

Asked whether he felt Microsoft's long-term ally, Intel, would be applying pressure on the software giant to withhold support for ARM, East said: "Maybe they would, but Microsoft has to run Microsoft, not Intel."

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User comments

Everyone has Windows

So if you want to reach everyone, you have to target the platform. This means if you want any mainstream software, you have to run Windows to get it.

BETAMAX may be better, but if you want all the latest titles, its VHS or nothing!

By cheysuli on 3 Feb 2010

Not everyone has windows!

The point warren east made about most PC/laptop's shipping with at least one ARM processor could be extended to most offices have most components running Linux or another bespoke OS. and it is only the main PC application unit running windows. If you take this into the home, my wii, ps3, NAS, set top box, router, phones et al do not run windows. yet all have the ability to access the content I require from either the NAS or the the internet (except the Wii if any one knows how to stream to the wii from a NAS with upnp please let me know).

Granted that bespoke SMB software will not run on linux or other os's but you are looking at it from a fat client perspective. with content shared on the web and standard file formats this should drive the use if non proprietary software.

By SimonCorlett on 3 Feb 2010

Stop talking and ship something!

It's very easy to tell people how great vapourware is going to be. The reality is that there is not a single competitive Arm based tablet or netbook on sale today or even on the immediate horizon.
However to address the point raised by @cheysuli, about 80% of the PC owners I know don't play games or use PC Specific software. They browse the web, play music, read email and edit the occasional document. I suspect 90%+ of owners of Office 2007 home student have never used a spreadsheet or produced a powerpoint presentation. It is therefore short sighted to assume that the only product that meets the need of these users is a wintel solution.

By milliganp on 3 Feb 2010

ARM desktops...

We are looking at rolling out ARM based desktops for our Windows users... Because most of them have to use Citrix to access the manufacturing system, so they don't need local Windows XP/7 as well, just embedded Windows or IGEL Linux.

On the netbook front, I don't see it taking over the market.

Tablets etc. might become a big market. But I don't think netbooks in their current form will dominate the market.

Screen real estate (or the lack thereof) is their biggest problem. 1024x700? That is so 1980s! It might work for a mobile phone, but not for a "full" computer browsing web pages on a regular basis.

I certainly wouldn't want to drop below the 1680x1050 of my 15" laptop on a regular basis - in fact I find that cramped, compared to the 1920x1200 of my desktop.

They are great as an "emergency access" device, but as a day-to-day device, the screens are too small and the keyboards too cramped.

They need higher resolution displays and they need a different input method.

An ARM tablet device? It might work. A new paradigm? Could be. A "netbook" as we know the class today? I don't think so, it will remain, for most people, a secondary device for when they are out and about - and I see tablets and other form factors eating into this sector.

By big_D on 3 Feb 2010

re ARM desktops

I share big_D's scepticism generally, but on the screen front it's worth noting that (IIRC) Intel enforces those resolutions on Atom powered netbooks, because they don't want Atom powered devices to steal the thunder of their more lucrative mainstream chips. ARM powered netbooks would have no artificial screen size imposed on them. (In reality, if they started to lose market share, I suspect Intel would drop the restriction - but it would damage their sales of Core chips).

By IT4SmallBiz on 3 Feb 2010

@SimonCorlett

There is the iPad "on the immediate horizon" - OK we do not 'know' that is ARM based, but I'll eat my iPhone if it's not!

I must say this strategy from ARM is "brave" - they risk pushing Intel to raise their Atom game and then start competing with ARM in the device space.

By JohnAHind on 3 Feb 2010

ARM v Intel

I'd love to see some benchmarks comparing the ARM and Atom CPUs. As I understand it the ARM is far better than the Atom, so it's a shame not to see it powering Windows Netbooks.

By Grunthos on 3 Feb 2010

@JohnAHind

i think that comment was aimed at milliganp not me also I think the ipad runs on an apple core derived from an acquisition last year. not 100% sure but think I read something somewhere can't be bother to google it now. Might even have some tech licensed from arm. but again can't be 100% sure.

though another expample of tech not running windows that might just do very well. (not that I agree with apples closed proprietary format)

Would you like sauce with that iPhone sir? lol

By SimonCorlett on 3 Feb 2010

just bother to google it

http://smarthouse.com.au/Home_Office/Industry/G6P4
K6R7

By SimonCorlett on 3 Feb 2010

sorry John

You can put down your curry sauce and cutlery I've just read the whole article and looks like it is based on ARM tech.

By SimonCorlett on 3 Feb 2010

@Grunthos

Agreed, although I think difficult to get meaningful figures.

There's a YouTube clip, posted by ARM I think, (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W4W6lVQl3QA) showing the newest ARM (Cortex A9), in dual core format (it will go to quad core in future), vs Atom (older, not the new N450, I think - but I *think* the N450 is about lower power consumption, not greater performance?)

I think at the moment Atom has more processing power, ARM uses less electrical power, and the danger for ARM is that Intel will get the Atom low enough on watts not necessarily to match the top end of ARM, but to make it pointless to bother switching in things like Netbooks. I don't see Intel getting the Atom low enough in power consumption for it to go in phones etc.

There would be a certain irony, and nice historical symmetry, if the Intel Atom were overcome by ARM, given that the ARM architecture was designed by Sophie Wilson, the same person who worked on the Acorn Atom (forerunner to the BBC Micro).

By IT4SmallBiz on 3 Feb 2010

Non-Windows (Linux) netbooks....

....sank without a trace.

Ordinary people don't buy a computer based on its processor for goodness sake.

By Lacrobat on 3 Feb 2010

@Lacrobat

Certainly true of wave 1 of netbooks. And certainly true people don't buy a computer based on the processor. Which is why East says lack of Windows is an issue; it is.

But Google are betting it's not true of future netbooks. And Apple are, sort of, with their tablet.

I suggest Apple, and to a lesser extent Google, are suggesting we don't think of netbooks/tablets as computers. Most people don't think of their iPhone or iPod touch as a computer, after all.

People *do* buy gadgets based on what they can do.
Start up instantly. Run iPlayer. Read my email. Listen to my iTunes. Surf the web. Edit my Google docs. Last all day on one battery charge.

Why do I need Windows? Until now, the answer has been because it means my gadget is extendable beyond what it does out of the box. How many people do you know who've stayed away from Apple because of the Windows software base? Which is why the Apps store is Apple's real killer. If I can get new additional applications for my tablet (or my next-gen, smaller, cheaper, ARM and iPhone-OS based MacBook ThinAir - they won't call it a netbook), I'm happy. If most of the apps I download are free, and the ones I have to pay for are cheap (9.99 for iWorks apps for iPad), I'm even happier. Google and Apple are both betting on persuading consumers away from Windows software. Google's problem is that all Chrome's web apps will run in Safari, whereas iPhone OS apps won't run in Chome. So buy Apple, and you get everything you get from Google, and more.

I'm not actually sure I believe all this, but Apple and Google seem to.

More speculation: I'm betting the iPad will have flash by the time of launch, or very near, by the way. See http://www.arm.com/news/26062.html. Flash 10.1 will be supported on ARM; it's currently in public beta. Apple couldn't announce that, because it would have given away that it's an ARM chip inside.

By IT4SmallBiz on 3 Feb 2010

Not so sure...

@Lacrobat

I'm not sure you're correct there. Intel have done a very good job of marketing their chip to the masses.

As a result, a lot of people (non technical in fact) will go with the Intel brand out of ignorance.

Seen any adverts for AMD or ARM on the telly lately?

By Steve_Adey on 3 Feb 2010

Quite simply the more CPU producers out there - the cheaper Computing devices and the more various we will see. At the end of the day - it is to the consumers benefit.

By nicomo on 3 Feb 2010

From what I've been given to understand, Microsoft have quite a number of developers working on ARM-based Windows, apart from Mobile versions that is.
I know that there is (or was) a lite version of Win-7 knocking around and M/S aren't going to 'give away' a future market share if they can help it.

Colin

By Ex_Sailor on 3 Feb 2010

Sophie AND Steve

Just to be pedantic, Steve Furber designed the ARM architecture whilst Sophie Wilson designed the instruction set.

http://www.computinghistory.org.uk/det/5299/Steve-
Furber/

By TowerBase on 3 Feb 2010

ARM are wrong

It's not that everyone loves Windows. It's that most customers don't know there is anything else.

ARM, and the other hardware manufacturers are to blame here, they fail to promote anything else other than Windows, so how in the world are their customers to know that there is a choice?

By tracy_anne on 3 Feb 2010

ARM's advantage

As I see it ARM has two big advantages:

1. They are RISC and RISC's time has finally come. ARM cores are much simpler, but lower performance per clock. That was a problem when one CISC core equalled two RISC cores because parallel programming is hard. But CISC has topped out and needs multicore itself, so we have to crack parallel programming anyway. If it takes 8 RISC cores to outperform 4 CISC, that is no longer a problem. Intel's Larrabee might actually have worked with ARM cores.

2. ARM sells IP not chips. This means device manufacturers like Apple can produce device specific single chips integrating a number of ARM cores with all the device specific peripherals.

Customers may not care about any of this, but they do care about the implications: lower cost devices and better battery life.

By JohnAHind on 3 Feb 2010

A Few Things

@Cheysuli
Basically, what you're saying is that if you want to have success you have to build an x86 or x86_64 compatible chip. ARM doesn't really have a choice here because they are making an alternative architecture. Remember that getting Microsoft to release Windows for ARM doesn't help them with all those apps. The apps have to be ported to ARM for them to matter. If they have to be ported anyway, then the operating system doesn't make that much difference. Windows existing for ARM is not enough for these companies to port their apps. ARM/Windows or ARM/(any desktop geared operating system) would have to become popular for them to port the apps. In this case other operating systems actually have a head start regarding application support on ARM.

@milliganp
Well, there is the Touchbook by Always Innovating

http://www.alwaysinnovating.com/touchbook/

They are having trouble keeping up with the demand for this device, though, even as little known as it is.

And of course, the iPad (as pointless as it seems to me; what's the advantage over a netbook other than battery life? Give me an ARM based netbook any day) is on the horizon.

Which brings up:
@SimonCorlett
Actually, the iPad is based on an SoC chip with an ARM processor at its core and is manufactured for Apple by Samsung, apparently.

Finally:
@Lacrobat
Actually, Linux based netbooks still have a significant share of the netbook market worldwide (usually estimated from 25 to 35% in the figures I've seen). They just got pushed out of the offerings of several companies by Microsoft's usual tactic. That is, in this case, Microsoft offered heavy discounts for Windows XP licenses for netbooks if the reseller would sell nothing else on the machines and/or put a "... recommends Windows XP" notice on their sales sites. Of course, Microsoft had to resurrect XP to do this. The fact that the Linux netbooks were selling well is apparent by Microsoft's reaction. They wouldn't have bothered to bring XP back and use their muscle to oust the Linux offerings for something that "sank without a trace."

By CWhitman on 3 Feb 2010

Arm v Windows

Maybe Arm should consult Elonex.
It seem strange that Elonex were reselling their webbook returns with Windows via their website & numerous other re-sellers.
I sya this because the one I purchased was supplied without the Windows XP Home COA on the bottom. I have to contact them to get it supplied separately.
So from this I am assuming the linux version did not go down well with the general public.
NB. The webbook has a 1.6 ghz risc processor (this is a suprisingly good little CPU, 6 hours on battery), which is supported by Windows XP but not Windows 7 when I ran the upgrade program.
But because of the screen size certain printer drivers refuse to install, as does Corel PSP Photo.

By roberttrebor on 4 Feb 2010

Whatever Happened To...

...those people that Linus Torvalds went and worked for, who made some kind of ultra-low-power substitute for an Intel CPU? Ended up, as I recall, in the then must-have tiny Sony laptop with the cylindrically mounted Webcam?

By Steve_Cassidy on 4 Feb 2010

Elonex and Transmeta

@roberttrebor
It's quite a jump to assume from just one refurbished Elonex Webbook with no Windows license sticker on the bottom that the Linux version totally flopped. I have no figures on Webbook returns either with Linux or with Windows, so I don't know how well it did.

Incidentally, the Via C7-M processor that the Webbook runs on is a CISC chip (not RISC), otherwise Windows XP wouldn't run on it, since there is no RISC based version of Windows XP. I'm not terribly surprised that Windows 7 would choke on it, though. Usually, people say that it averages around 4 hours (or just under that) with proper power saver configuration (and around 2.5 hours without proper configuration). Perhaps it can be stretched to 6 hours with the right type of workload, though.

@Steve Cassidy
Linus Torvalds used to work for Transmeta. This company was bought out Novafora early last year, which then proceeded to simply shut down operations a few months later. I have no idea what is happening to their patents and copyrights.

By CWhitman on 4 Feb 2010

Alternative to Windows

Riscos has ben using ARM chips for their computers for years. Their OS is far superior and stable than "Windoze" but sadly the market diminished greatly but if you google wakefield show you will and attend you will see for yourselves how well ARM compares

By bakdoc on 5 Feb 2010

Wakefield Show

http://wakefieldshow.org.uk/exhibitors.html
I have googled it for you

By bakdoc on 5 Feb 2010

linux netbook

The reason the Linux net-books failed was they were released so cut down that most people only familiar with windows couldn't install any other apps until they added the user friendly interface which didn't come with the net-book, major cock-up, or was it? as most people then gave up and changed to Microsoft, its almost as if Microsoft told them to skip the installer off so most people would be scared to death of Linux and boost their sales, just a thought.
but that is why ARM may fail, Linux isn't seen as being friendly (unless its installed properly)and Microsoft will go where they can make money, in this case staying with their bussom buddies Intel

By talontopaz on 5 Feb 2010

Alternative to Windows

RE my earlier response. it has been pointed out to me that I should have used the name RISC OS instead of RISCOS which is very important to some people. Its still a great operating system and worthy of consideration by anybody who needs a stable operating system

By bakdoc on 5 Feb 2010

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