That leaves Intel as the last man standing -- the last chip maker with its fortunes staked to the x86 processor architecture.
It’s not a bad place to be left standing, really. The market is still the second largest in non-memory semiconductors with annual unit sales measured in hundreds of millions. Its 80 percent-plus share of it makes Intel easily the largest semiconductor company in the world. Unlike the largest non-memory market of smartphone processors, it has average selling prices that range from about $100 for client CPUs to more than $1,000 for server chips.
But those prices are eroding like bad California beachfront property. ARM is on the rise with a penny- and power-pinching architecture that enables chips for clients and servers both selling in the low-rent neighborhood of about $20. Soon they will even include 64-bit varieties with performance nearly on par with members of the x86 family.
At this inflection point when we are watching a slow motion shift of monarchies from x86 to ARM, it’s worth remembering we are also watching the decline of microprocessor architecture. Increasingly system design is all about the software and the user experience.
I asked a long time Lenovo and former IBM tech executive about the big semiconductor design issues for mobile systems. There really aren’t many, he responded. The system issues are all about sensors, industrial design and software, he said.
Once upon a time, engineers made their livings designing the nuances of CPU pipelines the way great architects made skyscrapers and suspension bridges. I attended industry conferences where they explained the refinements of their works amid great competitive pressures. They were feted like Rembrandts and Da Vincis.
Those days are as much part of the technology past as the giant mainframe cabinets and consoles with their built-in ash trays in the Computer History Museum just down the street from the headquarters of Intel Corp.
But that doesn’t mean processors, cores and SoCs are dead. Far from it.
Brilliant engineers will be needed for as far as anyone can see into the horizon to design the chips that drive tomorrow’s personal and cloud computers. But microprocessor architecture and the x86 specifically no longer reign supreme.
So the x86 is dead. Long live the x86.
The Sage mainframe console sports a built-in ash tray (lower left).
Rick, Get your head out of the gutter...i mean ARM world. Razr I beats Razr M (Qualcomm) on battery life by 4 hours. Check out the web to get 3rd party reviews. This is just the beginning from Intel. Keep on dreaming about ARM. Its just a matter of days
I get what u mean. But, in terms of Medfield's single core with hyperthreading, how much performance can they squeeze out from a single core??
We have the Moore's law for a reason, in order to overcome the power wall, more cores have to be implemented. All i can say is Intel is just "adopt and modifying" design from their desktop counterparts which to me is a lot of work that needs to be done.
Some would say its an ecosystem game, not an architecture play.
By the time Intel has a fully fleshed out line of mobile SoCs running all the cool mobile software, ARM will have the same in servers.
Duopoly dead ahead.
I totally agree. And that was my point as well.
"The pattern is," as you so aptly put it, that x86 soon beats the newcomers at their game.
Hasn't happened yet in the mobile field, but there's no reason to leap up and claim they're finished.
People have very short memories.
From early 1990's
"Death of x86 due to MIPS...."
From mid 1990's
"Death of x86 due to PowerPC...."
From late 1990's
"Death of x86 due to DEC Alpha...."
"Death of x86 due to Itanium...."
"Death of x86 due to ARM..."
And the pattern is...
David Patterson, known for his pioneering research that led to RAID, clusters and more, is part of a team at UC Berkeley that recently made its RISC-V processor architecture an open source hardware offering. We talk with Patterson and one of his colleagues behind the effort about the opportunities they see, what new kinds of designs they hope to enable and what it means for today’s commercial processor giants such as Intel, ARM and Imagination Technologies.