SAN JOSE, Calif. – Another front is opening up in the architecture wars between ARM and Intel. Both see rising share in networking and communications systems where ARM is a relative newcomer and Intel is growing but not yet dominant.
That’s the conclusion of a keynote address from analyst Linley Gwennap principal of market watchers The Linley Group (Mountain View, Calif.) in his opening keynote at the Linley Tech Process Conference here.
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“We still see Freescale doing very well, but they are losing a little bit of share and Intel is really flying up their tail pipes gaining momentum in networking and comms where a few years ago they weren’t very well positioned,” said Gwennap in an interview with EE Times.
Intel has gained sockets as a controller for a growing variety of comms systems, especially as its focus on mobile systems has driven its average CPUs down in power consumption from 60W to less than 30W, Gwennap said. Now the PC giant is making an assault on the so-called data plane, going up against specialized processors that handle packet processing.
With its Crystal Forest chip set, Intel recently started a new trend of pairing a standard Xeon server CPU with an integrated comms chip to compete with dedicated network processors in wired systems. “Using the same approach, they can create different companion chips for wireless base stations or other apps,” said Gwennap.
Competitors such as Cavium, EZChip, Freescale and LSI are counterattacking by putting more general purpose cores into their dedicated network processors. As a result, “systems designers are getting more options for addressing packet processing,” said Gwennap.
Meanwhile, many of Intel’s competitors are adopting ARM as a compliment to existing Power- or MIPS-based chips.
“ARM has a very powerful ecosystem, but its big problem in this space has been that its processors have been too wimpy,” said Gwennap. “We see the introduction of 64-bit ARM processors in the next year or two will open up some new doors for them,” he said.
Indeed, Applied Micro, Cavium, Freescale and LSI who have in the past supported only Power or MIPS cores are rolling out new lines based on ARM. Today almost half of shipping comms processors use Power cores. ARM trails Power, x86 and MIPS with a small sliver of the comms market, but that’s set to change.