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Stage Is Set For Intel-ARM Battle

5/23/2011 12:01:00 AM Eastern

NEW YORK – With Intel having over an 80 percent market
share in processors the company is not accustomed to
being the weak sister in any processor competition.

But when it comes to smartphones and tablet PCs the
chip giant is in the unusual position of having to compete
as an underdog with ARM and chip vendors, like Nvidia,
that use ARM as a basis for their silicon on a chip products.
Adding to Intel’s bruised ego is Microsoft’s decision
to make the next version of Windows compatible with
ARM’s processors giving that company an opportunity to
enter the mainstream mobile computing category.

The third player in this contest is AMD. Like Intel its x86
processors also faces a challenge from ARM.

For its part Intel has started to rise to ARM’s challenge
with the introduction of its Tri-Gate 3D transistor technology
that is geared toward the tablet and smartphone markets.
The Tri-Gate transistor uses a new architecture that
greatly reduces power requirements, but still delivers a
full-power performance and is designed for use in tablets
and smartphones.

This situation has set up a potential head to head battle
that could see ARM moving into Intel’s territory and vice
versa, said several industry insiders.

“You can’t discount Intel,” said Dilip Bhatia, Lenovo’s
VP, ThinkPad Marketing, “although it is a little too early to
say how things will shake out.”

Bhatia also expressed excitement about the possibility
that ARM could be coming to laptops.

“This could bring out new innovation into the notebook
space,” he said.

Michael Holstein, ViewSonic’s VP business development,
said Intel has the advantage when it comes to tablet
PCs used in the enterprise market because most of those
will run Windows.

“On the consumer side it’s a totally different perspective
and Intel will be challenged,” Holstein said, “ARM is really
in there and Intel has to cover a lot of ground to catch up.

ARM is also looking forward to the new situation.
“The announcement that Windows will support SoC platforms, including those based on the ARM architecture,
in its next version opens up new opportunities
for the industry, and for customers around the world,”
said Ian Drew, executive VP of marketing, ARM, “ARM
is excited to be part of this effort which will come to
define the next generation of computing.”

Dadi Perlmutter, Intel’s executive VP, said 3D transistors
will help keep Intel competitive in its traditional
processor markets, and allow it to better compete in
the smartphone and tablet space where it has only a
small presence.

AMD sees ARM facing several specific challenges
if and when it attempts to enter the notebook space.

“The Windows OS is very big and it needs a processor
with a lot of functionality and power,” said
Raymond Dumbeck, AMD’s senior manager, client
product marketing, adding it will be a great battle and
eventually all the parties involved will benefit.

He added that ARM’s main advantage now is its low
thermal emissions and power consumption, but as
ARM scales up its processors to handle Windows its
heat and power levels will also increase. Meanwhile,
he said AMD, which now powers one tablet PC from
Acer, already has the power and is working hard to get
its heat and power usage down to even further.

Perlmutter said, he expects Atom processor with Tri-
Gate 3D transistors to compete strongly with ARM’s
mobile processor offerings, but he did not have any
benchmark data to compare the two.

iSuppli analyst Matt Wilkins said the new processors
capabilities give Intel an opportunity to establish
itself in the tablet field. However, iSuppli also noted
that ARM’s low-power consumption helps position the
technology to eat into Intel’s core notebook business.

The new 22nm Intel processors, code named Ivy
Bridge, will be in full production by the end of this year
and in products by 2012. The 3D architecture will be
used across Intel’s entire processor portfolio including
in Atom processors. Intel will not use the current
Planar technology on the 22nm level, company executives
said.

Despite the name, the technology does not have
anything to do directly with improving 3D video or
gaming performance.

The first devices to receive the new technology will
be thin clients and servers, followed at an unspecified
date by consumer products. These will include PCs,
laptops, smartphones and tablet PCs.

The technology has been under development for
10 years, said Mark Bohr, a senior fellow at Intel. The
new technology will allow chips to continue to follow
Moore’s Law, which states the number of transistors
on a chip will double every two years. Bohr said this
was becoming difficult using the older 32nm Planar
transistor technology.

The new technology gets its name from the addition
of a small fin that sits on top of the transistor that creates
an additional electronic gate on the transistor. This
forces the electric current to leave the transistor’s surface
and go up and over and then back onto the surface.
By doing so the transistors are 37 percent faster
on low voltage systems and use 50 percent less power.

In addition, the architecture change will allow Intel
to double the number of transistors that will fit on a
single processor, compared to its current 32nm technology,
said Bohr. 3D will also be scalable to Intel’s
upcoming 14nm architecture, but no further information
was revealed.

iSuppli also noted the fact that Intel is ready to mass
produce the 22nm processors gives it an advantage
over AMD and other competitors looking to get into
the tablet space. The research firm believes Intel is
at least two to three years
ahead of the others.

AMD had no direct comment
about the viability of
Intel’s technology, but Leslie
Sobon, VP product and
platform marketing, said,
“I’m not sure how it leads
to a better end user experience
and we want to focus on how our products directly
impacts people’s experience.”

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