Intel is king of the PC processor and ARM is the supplier of the leading processor architecture for mobile phones.
The two companies have been squaring up to each other across the netbook and smartphone sectors for a couple of years now. The ARM-versus-Intel battle is set to continue on a number of fronts at the Embedded Systems Conference (ESC) in Silicon Valley, coming up April 26 to 29, at the McEenery Convention Center in San Jose, California.
It is arguable that Intel and ARM see the embedded market differently. As in the netbook contest, they tend to view things from their own side of the battlefield and with their own opinions as to what is important. Intel looks for high performance requirements and similarities with the PC and motherboard businesses while ARM, either leading or surrounded by its partners, looks for low-power opportunities that play to its strengths.
"Intel may have 90 percent of the PC processor market but they only ship about 2 percent of all processor chips each year. ARM and its licensing partners provide about five times the volume that Intel does," said Jim Turley, founder and principal analyst with consulting firm Silicon Insider (Pacific Grove, Calif.).
Even though Intel is not exhibiting at ESC, it will be there in silicon on boards from Kontron and Advantech amongst others. And the company is also represented by Wind River Systems Inc. (Alameda, Calif.), a provider of software and software development tools, which Intel acquired in July 2009.
Jonathon Walsh, general manager for software within Intel's embedded group, said that the reason Intel bought Wind River was to help protect customers' software investment as they move through the generations in silicon and because those customers are looking for hardware-software solutions, not just a chip.
"We track 35 [embedded] market segments and see incredible diversity," said Walsh insisting that increased use of networking and rich graphics are two embedded megatrends.
"Intel tends to see the embedded world as PC-lite. Intel is leveraging the success of its x86 architecture into as many applications as possible. There are advantages because there is a wealth of compatible software," said Turley. "The downside is that the Intel architecture is complex and uses a lot of energy, and increasingly embedded applications are going wireless and sometimes even battery-less."
But Intel does have the ability to produce lower power versions of established architectures such as Pentium and Core, as can be experienced at ESC.