September 26, 2007 4:04 AM PDT

Intel has ARM in its crosshairs

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Intel is determined to drive that point home. Last Wednesday, during a speech delivered by Intel's Anand Chandrasekher, the company's marketing team fired the first salvo against ARM. Intel attempted to draw a direct comparison between the two architectures by counting the numbers of errors encountered while browsing the Internet on notebook PCs with Intel's chips, versus mobile phones and Internet tablets with ARM's processor cores.

The implication was that ARM-based devices aren't suitable for reading anything beyond stripped-down mobile Web pages because of compatibility problems, and that anyone thinking about buying a mobile device or developing one should choose an Intel-based device to receive the best possible experience.

Intel refused multiple requests to publicly identify the ARM-based devices it used in making its comparisons, citing the need to avoid embarrassing the very partners it might be courting with chips like Silverthorne. Walter Grayeski, who works in the competitive marketing segment of Intel's Ultra Mobility Group, said the company chose phones that were marketed as smart phones, not the basic phones that you can get for free with a two-year subscription.

"Who will decide this will be the consumers. We have to provide the infrastructure and the products, and if we both don't do it, the (industry) won't grow."
--Ian Drew, vice president of segment marketing, ARM

Many of the browsers on those phones weren't necessarily designed to work with sites designed for PC browsers, and Intel thinks that's part of the reason why it will one day have an advantage. "It's fragmented," Grayeski said, referring to the number of players in ARM's world and their competing interests. Not all of the mobile browsers on ARM phones support Web standards like Flash, which automatically excludes a fair number of Web pages from a smart phone's browser.

There's no doubt as to the ubiquity of x86 software. But ARM thinks the more appropriate question is whether x86 software is simply too large for a power-constrained environment like a smart phone.

"The memory footprint, for a start, dictates what runs on some of these devices. Do you need a hard drive in there to go run an operating system?" said Ian Drew, vice president of segment marketing for ARM. "More memory consumes more power."

Intel's stance is understandable, because the company is just now turning its attention to the ultra-low power market and it has to sell the advantages it already has, said Will Strauss, an analyst with Forward Concepts.

"ARM's way ahead in low-power processors," Strauss said. "The PC (industry) says, 'we can bring x86 to the market,' but do you really need the x86 architecture for this wonderful new thing?"

ARM is aware that it has work to do to head off Intel's challenge, especially as more and more applications are accessed via the Internet, not on the device itself. Another ARM executive, Kerry McGuire, director of strategic alliances for mobile computing, noted that users of Nokia's N800 Internet tablet can download Firefox to run on ARM. But that's a much more powerful device compared with the breadth of what is available running ARM's instruction set.

"I think you'll always want a better browsing experience, and I think plug-ins become more important in this space," ARM's Drew said. "That's where I think the software initiatives should be."

And that's one area where Intel thinks it has an advantage, given the powerful software already available for Windows and Linux PCs. Linux, especially, will be an important part of Intel's strategy.

The first UMPCs were designed in cooperation with Microsoft, with plans to run Windows XP and Windows Vista. But since the Spring IDF in Beijing, Intel has been gradually backing away from its long-time partner to tout Linux-based operating systems for MIDs.

Last week, it invited Canonical CEO Mark Shuttleworth on stage during Chandrasekher's keynote to discuss implementing Canonical's Ubuntu Linux in future MIDs. Chandrasekher later said that Microsoft remains an important partner for Intel in the mobile space.

"But we're getting clear requests (for Linux) from customers for a variety of reasons--lower power, and smaller footprint is another," Chandrasekher said. And by extension, there are a lot of Linux enthusiasts who would love to get their hands on an open x86 mobile computer like an MID.

A solid argument can be made on behalf of either company. Intel, with a lot of money and plenty of smart engineers looking for The Next Big Thing, isn't a company to be taken lightly. ARM has the home field advantage--and the help of some heavyweights who would love to keep Intel out of one of the fastest-growing markets on the planet. So who has the inside edge?

"I won't decide that, and nor will Intel," Drew said. "Who will decide this will be the consumers. We have to provide the infrastructure and the products, and if we both don't do it, the (industry) won't grow."


Correction: This story incorrectly stated the site of ARM's headquarters. It is based in Cambridge, England.

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is in Cambridge, not London.
Posted by dpapas (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
You're right
Thanks, we'll fix that.
Posted by Tom Krazit (436 comments )
Link Flag
Intel's ARM Competition
You write:"Intel's definitely the challenger, not the favorite, when handicapping the looming showdown between the two companies. "
Posted by john oehrle (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Intel and ARM
I know that ARM isn't specifically mentioned in the sentence, but that's what the entire article is about.
Posted by aka_tripleB (2211 comments )
Link Flag
Intel has shown it has the resources and patients to never fail
Sure, Intel, like all companies have had 'product related' set backs, however, Intel never utimately fails.

The are patient as a monk and persistant as a four year old after candy.

The world is Intel's oyster. I would never underestimate Intel.
Posted by onlyauser (220 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Intel never fails???
Pentium IV has been a major failure, they reverted back to Pentium III, improved it and now this old reworked thingie called brand new Core2.

They produced XSCale.But it has been used in big PDAs only.Since Intel has MHz mania.They unable to stop on clocking their MHz up higher abd higher, so their CPUs are power hog when it comes to question to run several days marathon from 3.6V 900mAh battery while doing something useful.It is not enough to squeeze power consumed my Pentium M by factor 5 or 10, it will eat mobile device battery too fast anyway.
Posted by t3st3r` (60 comments )
Link Flag
Posted by mwohl (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
browser comparison seems unfair
A very important reason that the browsers and web pages are different on PCs from those on mobile phones is that the pages that must be displayed are vastly different in size, and must be differently laid out because the input mechanisms for links and buttons are so very different.

That difference is not going to go away just because X86 software can be used on a mobile phone. You'd just get unusable web pages for the phone.

And, of course, the buginess of the mobile browsers mainly derives from the fact that they have seen relatively little use and so relatively little developer eyeballs.
Posted by frankly0 (28 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I agree
It's like comparing the performance of Itanium to the Core 2 Duo. Sure, Itanium's the highest performing chip in Intel's arsenal, but it's not going to work very well in a PC.

But Intel's argument is that experienced x86 developers will be able to create better mobile browsers than ARM developers, who right now have to work with a multitude of operating systems and core technologies. Intel has to make some sort of promise that way, because they won't have competitive products out until next year.

And this software argument is where Intel will have to deliver, because they're trying to displace an instruction set that's already well accepted in this area. Not only will they have to match the power/performance of ARM chips, they'll have to give hardware makers and application developers a real reason to walk away from the investments they've already made in ARM.
Posted by Tom Krazit (436 comments )
Link Flag
Let's decent comparison.Look at n800 :)
Linux is cross platform.As well as Firefox engine.So, actually you can browse even ajax and flash sites on ARM-based device.Ha-ha, just some incompetent words in this article.Article is worth nothing.
Posted by t3st3r` (60 comments )
Link Flag
n800 does uses Ti OMAP and provides decent browsing experience.
- Browser is Opera 8.5 built for ARM.
- Flash 9 is here, built for ARM as well
- There is beta of MicroB browser, who runs Gecko 1.9, this is engine of FireFox 3.0...

And yes, web browsing experience can be great.Yes, on ARM CPU.So if Intel unable to do something working with ARM set they're trying to deal with ancient x86 stuff which is over 20 years old.Actually, ARM is much more efficient when it comes to performance vs consumed power ratio.Intel was NEVER able to acheive good power consumption on their CPUs and nobody needs devices sucking all their battery within couple of hours.For example Ti OMAP performs quite tricky power saving techniques.Years ahead things Intel can offer.
Posted by t3st3r` (60 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Comments about browsers being a factor to x86 development are lacking in context with our current capabilities. You must take into account what Apple has done, Android is doing, and multitouch in general. The reasons for creating a browser based upon limited viewing area are diminishing quickly to no reason at all.
Posted by Thomas, David (1947 comments )
Reply Link Flag
ARM'S Cores are synthesized using RTL and Synopsys. Intel's cores use Domino Logic that needs to be carefully designed transistor by transistor. If Intel is Patek-Phillippe, ARM is Swatch.

I know what I am talking about.
Posted by bapcha (2 comments )
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