SAN FRANCISCO—Nearly one in four notebooks PCs made in 2015 will feature ARM-based processors, providing the first real competition to Intel Corp.'s x86 architecture in the PC microprocessor market, according to a forecast issued Monday (July 18) by market research firm IHS iSuppli.
ARM-based chips are expected to get a big boost in the PC space by Microsoft Corp.'s decision to support ARM-based devices with the next generation of its Windows operating system. Microsoft announced the decision in January following months of speculation, in theory removing a long time barrier to the uptake of more ARM-based chips in PC.
IHS (El Segundo, Calif.) said it expects that ARM-based systems will account for 22.9 percent of global notebook PC unit shipments in 2015, up from 3 percent in 2012. The firm said it expects total ARM-based notebook shipments to hit 74 million in 2015, up from 7.6 million next year.
"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 HIS, in a statement. "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."
According to IHS, the biggest potential market for ARM-based notebooks is in so-called "value notebooks"—machines priced at less than $700 and designed the deliver the optimal price/performance to consumers. Value notebooks—including netbooks—most frequently employ AMD's E Series and Intel's Celeron M and Atom microprocessors, IHS noted.
"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."
The proliferation of ARM-based notebooks is expected to provide growth opportunities for a raft of existing as well as new suppliers of the chip, including Nvidia Corp., Qualcomm Inc. and Texas Instruments Inc., IHS noted.
But IHS said Intel and AMD are not likely to cede of portion of the notebook PC market to other firms without a fight. The firm noted that Intel is developing tri-gate three-dimensional transistor technology to dramatically cut the power consumption of its processors without hurting their performance. The move is expected to not only provide another barrier against ARM-based devices grabbing more of the notebook PC market, but also help Intel expand its x86 business into cell phones and media tablets, IHS noted.
AMD has also been working to reduce power consumption for its x86 devices, according to IHS.