Intel takes ARM head-on

Intel’s biggest threat right now is the ARM processor architecture. Once the chip maker only had to worry about AMD but now Intel has the British processor manufacturer snapping at its heals, particularly in the mobile phone market. Already most high-end smartphones are being equipped with ARM-based chips which are power friendly but increasingly powerful.

Clearly Intel is aware of this and earlier this week it reacted to ongoing suggestions that it was being muscled out of is dominant position.

Last week Paul Otellini, Intel’s CEO, said that while they recognised that ARM was a growing force in the processor market, Intel was already working on an x86 version of its processors for the smartphone market.

To date Intel’s primary foray into the mobile market has been with its Atom processor, which mainly serves the netbook and tablet PC market, not the smartphone market. Because Windows 7 doesn’t yet run on the ARM architecture, Atom has been the platform of choice for Windows-based devices.

That is set to change change, as Microsoft has said that Windows 8 will run on both Intel and ARM architectures.

Speaking last week at a financial results briefing, Otellini said that Intel was well-positioned to put its x86-based processors inside mobile devices. “We have the ability to put our lowest-power Intel processors running Windows 8, or ‘next-generation Windows,’ into phones, because it’s the same OS stack,” he said. “I look at that as an upside opportunity for us.”

Intel is hedging its bets when it comes to software. At the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) earlier this year Intel showed off Atom-based devices running Google’s Android operating system. At the Mobile World Congress next month Intel is expected to show off a larger selection of Atom-based smartphones running Android.

IT analyst Gartner said late last year that smartphone sales in the third quarter of 2010 had grown by almost 100%. Which makes the smartphone market the one that everyone wants a big part of.

Android is the current favourite in the smartphone market race but if Microsoft can deliver Windows 8 with both ARM and x86 support then it stands a good chance of reclaiming some of the ground it lost over the past year. Clearly Intel doesn’t want to be left out and is set on delivering x86 in smartphones so that it can capitalise on users wanting a consistent Windows experience across both their desktop and mobile devices.

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Intel takes ARM head-on