Processor Wars: Why all the interest in ARM?

Posted on by Mike Evans


Above: ARM smartphone processor block diagram (source: ARM)

Over the past week attention has been focused on Cambridge-based ARM, the company responsible for the chip architecture used in a majority of smartphones, including the iPhone. Microsoft announced that it would be introducing ARM compatibility when, previously, Windows had used only Intel. I've watched all this, but didn't really understand what is at stake.

This article by Horace Dediu on Asymco sheds light on the current situation. What we are seeing here, it seems, is a war between two completely different types of marketing. On the one hand we have the mighty Intel which designs, manufactures and sells chips to manufacturers. On the other we have the licensing model developed by the rest of the industry, including ARM. 

Quoted in Dedlu's article, ARM's Dr. Hermann Hauser says:

“The reason why ARM is going to kill the microprocessor is not because Intel will not eventually produce an Atom [Intel's low-power microprocessor] that might be as good as an ARM, but because Intel has the wrong business model... People in the mobile phone architecture do not buy microprocessors. So if you sell microprocessors you have the wrong model. They license them. So it’s not Intel vs. ARM, it is Intel vs. every single semiconductor company in the world.”

In the past I've heard much on the ARM v Intel debate but had never really appreciated this fundamental difference between the business models. If Dr. Hauser is to be believed, the industry is in for a big shakeup.

Disclosure: MacFilos holds stock in ARM Holdings Plc and Apple, Inc.

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