Could Intel's Atom end up the last chip standing?
Hogan's predictions paint a bleak picture for the future of IDMs and the companies that work with them. Asked why he felt Atom would could pose a threat to ARM, he responded: "With Intel processors, Microsoft Corp's business applications software run smoothly. In terms of processing power, it is impossible with ARM's processors, which feature small sizes and low power consumptions."
ARM doesn't seem willing to cede that point without a fight. There are a dizzying number of ARM processors available for almost any type of device in existence, but the company's Cortex A9 processors are aimed at devices that require significantly more horsepower. The A9 is available in single-core or multi-core configurations, and sports a superscalar architectures with an integrated media processor block ARM refers to as NEON. At present, the A9 is capable of executing up to two instructions per clockcycle, per core.
The current Cortex A-9 is capable of approximately 2000 DMIPS.
"SoCs are developed basically by combining IP cores. Therefore, IDMs have to have powerful IP cores, design techniques to integrate IP cores and advanced processes. But it is not easy to have all of them. Many of the processes for SoCs are developed by silicon foundries. General-purpose IP cores are supplied by IP providers. And IP cores that differentiate products are developed by system/device manufacturers. It is difficult to run a business as an IDM."
The problem Hogan is referring to is the fact that IDM's combine IP cores designed by different companies and rely on advanced manufacturing technologies to create any SoC they may design. If a step in that process is flawed, the quality and capability of the final product is jeopardized.
While it may be true that Intel and its long-term plans for the embedded market threaten the existing ARM-based infrastructure, the battle for this space has scarcely been joined. A recent investigation by Ars Technica found that despite the plethora of MID devices at every Intel trade show, the only Atom-based tablet MID currently shipping in the US is the Toughbook U1, with a price between $2500-$3000. (Netbooks that can transform into tablets don't count). None of this is particularly surprising; Intel's plans for the MID market have always been long-term and multi-generational, but it underlines the fact that the MID market is nascent to the point of being embryonic.