Fast forward to 2011: Chipzilla under threat
The situation today is quite different. While Intel still squats in more server sockets than its AMD competition, down in the consumer space its hegemony is in question. The market-watchers at IDC, for example, predict that ARM will suck up 13 per cent of the PC marketplace by 2015, due mostly to Microsoft porting Windows 8 to ARM in 2012 or 2013.
AMD is a resurgent threat, as well, with its new Fusion line of CPU/GPU mashups that AMD insists upon calling APUs – accelerated processing units. Intel's vastly greater marketing and distribution resources will surely make it difficult for the "li'l microprocessor designer who could" to tear significant chunks of market share away from Chipzilla, but don't think they won't try – and, with ATI graphics chops on their APU silicon along with new Bobcat and Bulldozer cores, don't think they won't succeed to an Intel-annoying degree.
Down in the exploding tablet and smartphone space, Intel is, well ... to call their current position "suboptimal" would be kind. The company's pioneering low-power efforts – "Menlow" and "Moorestown" – were essentially failures, and the jury is still out on its most recent effort in this space, "Medfield".
ARM – with its IP being embodied in silicon by chip-bakers such as Samsung, Qualcomm, Nvidia, TI, and others – owns the tablet and smartphone market.
But what must be even more troubling for Intel is that ARM is moving up into the PC market – as evidenced by IDC's predictions noted above, and soon to be boosted by the consumer-level, PC-capable ARM Cortex-A15 design, scheduled to appear next year in chips from TI, Nvidia, and others.
Just to put an additional frisson of fear into Intel's corner offices came a rumor this Friday that Apple – Intel's BFF since the first Chipzillian Macs shipped in 2006 – is mulling a switch to ARM for its hella-popular laptops (at minimum) in the next two or three years.
Intel is finding itself threatened at the growing low-power end of the consumer spectrum in a way that it has never been before. (It's also facing challenges in the server space from such new developements as microservers and massively multicore processors from outfits like Tilera, but those threats are not as immediate.)
So when a company is threatened, what does it do? It falls back on its strengths. And what are Intel's strengths? Engineering smarts and cash. And it took both to bring the Tri-Gate design and manufacturing process into fruition.
You might also argue, of course, that another of Intel's strengths is the gargantuan installed base of Intel-architecture apps littering God's green earth – and you'd have a good argument, if you were talking about PCs. Tablets and smartphones, not so much – which is, of course, why Intel is busily porting Android's tablet-centric version 3.0 to IA.
But exactly how good is 22nm Tri-Gate, and will it be fast enough and low-power enough to move Intel into the range it must comfortably inhabit if it's going to compete with ARM?
The simple answer to that question is: "Dunno." After all, it will be a while before we get our hands on 22nm Tri-Gate microprocessors. All we have so far are presentations and promises. However, if what Intel revealed on Wednesday is even close to the truth, there a chance that the first procs to be built using the process, which will be code-named "Ivy Bridge", might be worthy competitors.
With the help of Intel senior fellow Mark Bohr, who provided a technical overview of Tri-Gate at the rollout – plus enduring one of the more embarrassing marketing-video starring roles we've seen in some time – let's take a bit of a deep dive into the transistor tech that Tri-Gate embodies.
Next page: Deep – really deep – inside Tri-Gate
Re: Interesting thought...
No it wouldn't. Merging with someone like AMD would kill ARM.
AMD licensing ARM designs would be more interesting, and any of ARM's current licensees moving to the same 22nm Tri-Gate process would effectively kill Intel's chance of ever gaining any momentum in the high-performance, low-power market.
It's about time ARM made significant inroads into the desktop market. Intel have been making our (programmer's) lives hell for long enough.
"Or, for that matter, Intel could license the ARM architecture and start buiding its own ARM variants in its own fabs, using its 22nm Tri-Gate process"
I'd have thought, more like a dead cert, than unlikely.
If Intel has the best process technology for low-power devices, ARM without question has a better CPU architecture for low-power devices like Smartphones. Put them together and what do you get? The best possible Smartphone CPU, that can either double battery runtime, or allow for a large cut in the weight of the phone without any loss of runtime.
If Intel suffers from the "not invented here" syndrome, Smartphone manufacturers will have to choose between i86 architecture running on the best Silicon, or ARM running on less good silicon. It won't be so long before TSMC or some other chip foundry catches up with Intel enough to put ARM back at the front of the pack. Best for Intel if it's Intel that makes the best mobile device chips.
Whatever Intel can do with FinFET then ARM can also do
@"The move to a 22nm Tri-Gate process architecture is an important step for Intel's entire microprocessor line"
It is important because once the ARM A15 design is here, Intel will start to loose the future server market on processing power per watt. (The ARM A15 will allow the design of servers with more processing power for less electrical power than an Intel CPU based design. That's win win for ARM and Checkmate for Intel's bloated x86 design).
Intel's market lead and dominance up until now has largely depended on Intel's ability to define what each new generation of x86 design should be, so they were always first to market with each new x86 generation. That meant each time the x86 design changed, AMD had to spend time playing catch up to add each new addition to the ever more bloated and increasingly complex x86 design. This constantly changing x86 design gave Intel the marketing lead over AMD, because Intel were always going to be first to market with each new generation.
Unfortunately for Intel, ARM are not playing that same game. ARM processor designs are more power efficient than x86 designs. So whatever chip making process Intel uses, they still can't win, as an ARM design based on that same chip making process will win over the x86 design. Ironically for Intel, their bloated x86 design that was so useful for holding back AMD, is now holding them back from competing with ARM.
Which leaves software (not hardware) as Intel's remaining x86 strength and even that is just in its legacy support. Its a pain to recompile programs and some old programs won't be recompiled (the companies who created the code may not even be around any more). But for all new code, its really not an issue. Plus ARM has a lot of software support. For example Linux has been on ARM for years. Android and iPhone already support ARM. Even Microsoft are looking to support ARM. Also ARM software development has had 28 years to evolve to a very high level of industry support with good free tools. So ARM is strong in software support as well as beating the x86 design in processing power per watt.
So Intel are in trouble. AMD isn't Intel's biggest competitor, its the over 200 companies that all license the ARM designs that are Intel's biggest threat, because together these over 200 companies could seriously harm Intel's market dominance. So Intel really are in trouble.
The article made even someone as thick as me think that they understand the concepts; thanks.
"The answer- to blow sugar up your ass."
I'm not sure that's all it's cracked up to be.