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ARM challenges Intel in the netbook market

by Scott Bicheno on 27 February 2009, 07:00

Tags: Intel (NASDAQ:INTC), ARM

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Can ARM compete?

That certainly seems to be the case. Recent IDC figures point to the netbook market being the only part of the PC market, in Europe at least, where there's any growth right now. But netbooks are very much Intel territory, what makes ARM think it can muscle in to that market?

"There has been a steady march in the PC processor space from gigahertz to cores but now it faces the innovator's dilemma: most tasks like web access and email don't require the kind of processing power you see in new CPUs," said Morris.

But surely it was an acknowledgement of that which led Intel to develop the lower power, lower performance Atom CPU in the first place. And while the mobile device of the future may not need a desktop CPU to do what is asked of it, it will surely need more computing power than a mobile phone processor can provide.

So the big question is: does ARM have a processor that can compete with Atom? Morris thinks it does. "The Cortex A8 has similar performance to the Atom but three to four times lower power use," he said.

Maybe we just haven't been paying close enough attention, but that came as a bit of a surprise to us. We knew ARM processors were much lower power than Intel ones, but assumed the same applied to their performance. If Morris's claims are true then Intel has a lot more competition in the netbook market than we'd realised.

We decided it was time to find out a bit more about ARM and Morris obliged with a couple of presentations.