It always used to be Intel versus Motorola and Multibus versus VME in the bus-board boards business. Then it was Intel versus Advanced Micro Devices at the high-end of the embedded board business while ARM-based microcontrollers have been cleaning up elsewhere in embedded.
And Intel was the largest supplier of embedded processors in 2012, according Semicast Research Ltd. (Waterlooville, England) but that could change with Qualcomm overtaking Intel in 2013, the market research firm predicted.
However, by instruction set architecture it is likely that the ARM architecture, which is used by licensees including Qualcomm, Samsung and Apple eclipsed x86. For 2012 Semicast puts Intel ahead of Qualcomm and Broadcom while Samsung traded places with Texas Instruments to grab fourth spot ahead of TI's fifth.
Semicast defines embedded processing to include ASICs, ASSPs, PLDs, FPGAs, 32- and 64-bit microcontrollers and embedded microprocessors and general purpose DSPs. Excluded from the Semicast definition of embedded processing are CPUs for computers, 8- and 16-bit microcontrollers. The Semicast embedded processor market therefore excludes millions of MCUs for automotive and low-end consumer applications but is nonetheless vast; valued at about $90 billion in 2012, nearly one third of the total semiconductor market.
The market has been stalled in recent years as increases in volume have been compensated for by reducing average selling prices. Semicast puts it at $89 billion in 2010 and $83 billion in 2008.
During that time Intel's lead has eroded as Qualcomm's success in smartphones and tablet computers has given it faster growth than the demand for x86 processors in communications infrastructure, set-top boxes and industrial automation, said Semicast.
Renesas Electronics and STMicroelecronics have dropped several places down the rankings as their mobile operations have lost out to Qualcomm, Samsung and vertical integration. Samsung has risen from 14th place in 2008 to fourth in 2012 and is within striking distance of passing Broadcom for third.
The primary market for Intel is general-purpose microprocessor in the-old-day-term. Embedded processor is generally defined as microprocessor with a number of embedded peripherals. They were more application specific; for example, VoIP processor that has MCU core is embedded with DSP, UART, PHY and SPI.
Similarly, ARM based processor for tablet and smartphone may be classified as embedded microprocessor. It could be seen as application specific processor. Maybe, soon, there will be a ARM based processor minus all those 802.11ac, GPU, etc. Until then, I have hard time compare Intel processor to ARM based processor. They are Apple and Orange.
Nonetheless, no doubt, the figure indicates the market is shifting to a different device platform.
Join our online Radio Show on Friday 11th July starting at 2:00pm Eastern, when EETimes editor of all things fun and interesting, Max Maxfield, and embedded systems expert, Jack Ganssle, will debate as to just what is, and is not, and embedded system.