We've discussed ARM's plans to enter both the netbook and server markets, but a new interview with Tudor Brown, the company's CEO, suggests the CPU designer's plans are more ambitious than some have realized. Speaking to DigiTimes, Brown claims that the company will snatch a huge chunk of the notebook market by 2015, while simultaneously gripping 85 percent of the future tablet industry.
Brown's betting on Windows 8 will open the netbook/notebook market to ARM processors in ways the company hasn't previously been able to achieve. There's no denying that the CPU designer's products have matured enormously in recent years--dual-core Cortex-A9 CPUs have established themselves as the workhorse of the nascent tablet industry, with the next-generation Cortex-A15 Eagle already scheduled to debut in 2012-2013.
What makes the company's plans more interesting is that a number of prominent vendors have signed on to build ARM-based mobile systems. Samsung, Toshiba, Acer, and Asustek are all reportedly working on ARM products with plans to launch them as early as the end of this year.
Lenovo's Skylight Smartbook was an ARM-based machine aimed at a sub-netbook market.
If true, it implies that vendors want to drive ARM-based products in two different directions. ARM chips running Android/Linux can launch at any time and have no need to wait for Windows 8. We saw a similar trend with x86 processors back when Asus' original EEE PC kicked off the netbook craze. Vendors positioned Linux-based systems at the lower end of the market while systems with more RAM were equipped with Windows XP.
ARM's tablet predictions are bullish, but play to the company's historic market strengths. It's netbook/notebook predictions are optimistic to the point of being dubious. Raw performance, in this case, matters less than application support. Potential customers need to know that certain core products (think Office) run equally well on both CPUs. Even if ARM-based Windows 8 netbooks and tablets start selling like mad, it'll take developers awhile to build a software library.
That's where Linux and other OSS software solutions come in handy. With OEMs reportedly targeting price points as low as $299, it shouldn't be difficult to offer multiple attractive models with better performance, longer battery life, and other advanced features that weren't available on the early Atom-based netbooks.
According to Digitimes, Samsung, Toshiba, Acer, and Asus are all planning to launch ARM-based netbooks/notebooks based on Windows 8. None of the companies listed have formally confirmed those plans, but we suspect there's truth to them. ARM, like Tilera, believes its products address the needs of certain markets more effectively than current x86 processors do. Brown may be wrong about where ARM will be four years from now, but we suspect a sea change is inevitable.
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