iSuppli Claims ARM To Hold 23 Percent Notebook Share By 2015

Windows 8's primary feature (at least thus far) is its ability to run on ARM processors and, by extension, its tablet-centric UI. According to analyst firm IHS-iSuppli, official Windows support will give the ARM architecture the ability to do what no other CPU design has ever done: break the x86 monopoly.

"Starting in 1981, when IBM first created its original PC based on Intel’s 8088 microprocessor, the X86 architecture has dominated the PC market," said Matthew Wilkins, principal analyst of compute platforms for IHS. “Over the next generation, billions of PCs were shipped based on X86 microprocessors supplied by Intel and assorted rivals—mainly Advanced Micro Devices Inc. However, the days of X86’s unchallenged domination are coming to an end as Windows 8 opens the door for the use of the ARM processor, which already has achieved enormous popularity in the mobile phone and tablet worlds."

He continues: "ARM is well-suited for value notebooks, where performance isn’t a key criterion for buyers," Wilkins said. “Value notebook buyers are looking for basic systems that balance an affordable price with reasonable performance. ARM processors deliver acceptable performance at a very low cost, along with unrivaled power efficiency."

IHS predicts ARM will rapidly chew into the x86 CPU market

iSuppli predicts that ARM, which is expected to account for three percent of the notebook market in 2012, will skyrocket to 22.9 percent by the end of 2015. Porting Windows 8 to ARM and building a tablet-friendly version of the Windows OS are both important tasks--but neither guarantees ARM's ascension at anything like the rate iSuppli projects. ARM, meanwhile, is even more optimistic--the company has claimed it'll hold a whopping 40 percent of the market by 2015.

Just as ARM processors are evolving upwards towards mainstream notebook/desktops, x86 processors are shrinking and becoming more power efficient. Neither side can dodge the laws of physics, which means that ARM chips will inevitably sacrifice some of that unrivaled power efficiency as they adopt tactics long-used by Intel and AMD to improve performance. Intel faces significant challenges when it comes to pushing Atom into mobile markets, but ARM (or rather, ARM's various licensees) will have no easy time muscling in on AMD and Intel's home turf.

Both x86 companies could bring pressure to bear on would-be ARM solutions, albeit in different ways. Intel's manufacturing advantages will let it scale Atom aggressively; the company has already announced that future mainstream mobile solutions will target 15W instead of 35W. Intel's margins and deep pockets give it considerable ammunition when it comes to waging war against an invading non-x86 processor and offering good deals to OEMs. AMD isn't as advanced as Intel on the manufacturing front and doesn't have as much money, but the company's Llano APU has won recognition for superior battery life. Both companies will continue to step up performance in both areas.  

ARM is still likely to win converts in the x86 markets, but probably far fewer (and more slowly) than what iSuppli predicts. Even 10 percent of the notebook market would be an enormous achievement--more than Apple ever achieved during its use of G3/G4 CPUs. Given Intel's stated target for future mobile power consumption, ARM is going to face competition here--particularly considering that even the upcoming ARM Cortex-A15 'Eagle' processor is 32-bit only (64-bit addressing supported via PAE).