Sunday, November 27th 2011

Wintel Alliance Slowly Crumbling, ARM To Eventually Rule The Desktop?

The writing has been on the wall for a while now, that the close relationship between Microsoft and Intel (and by extension AMD) is crumbling into dust. In fact, they have never really been the best of friends. It has been clear since Microsoft unveiled that Windows 8 would run natively on ARM processors that things would never be quite the same again. Apart from some niche server variants of Windows, which could run on Itanium and other processors, all the previous desktop versions, including Windows 7, have run on x86 (and x64 for the last 6 years or so) processors.

However, Microsoft is keen to increase its presence in the lucrative smartphone and tablet market, where it's not had much success so far, getting comprehensively trounced by Android and Apple. Microsoft would be happy to use an x86/x64 processor for this application, but here, the limiting factor is the energy source, the battery, forcing the entire device to consume very little power if it's to run for more than 5 minutes. To meet this requirement, processors based on the ARM architecture have met this need admirably for years, with excellent performance while the Intel x86 variants have not (see video below). This has lead Microsoft to forge a relationship with a new processor manufacturer, Qualcomm, who make their own variant of the ARM processor, called Snapdragon. In fact, the relationship is so close now, that Windows Phone 7 only runs on Qualcomm ARM chips.

Having Windows run on two processor architectures concurrently inherently puts them into competition, creating an uneasy, unstable coexistence (witness the death of the other architectures in the Windows server space) so it seems reasonable to expect that Qualcomm will end up competing head to head with Intel at some point. This should make for a very interesting situation, given Intel's strength and Microsoft's strength, which could be used to invest in Qualcomm to help it compete with Intel in the performance desktop market, which would be expensive and difficult in terms of R&D. Perhaps an alliance with AMD or IBM, given their design expertise could also be on the cards? Of course, the major show stopper for a full-on ARM onslaught into the desktop space is that "legacy" x86/x64 apps - which the whole world runs right now - either won't run at all, or will run poorly under some sort of emulator. The fact that all current ARM chips are physically optimised for low power rather than all-out data processing performance really doesn't help the situation, either.

For the moment, let's assume that this problem is successfully overcome, perhaps by porting various key apps over to ARM say. Due to the significant efficiency and performance improvements of the ARM architecture (see video below) x86 begins to be phased out, eventually disappearing. Now, where does this leave Intel? To go bust, obviously, as it can't sell any more x86 chips. No, of course not. Intel has had an ARM licence for years, so it seems logical that it would put its many superb data processing enhancement technologies into ARM chips, to create monsters that are capable of the blistering speeds we see today from x86 chips and then some. Intel really, really won't like this situation though. Why? Because at the moment, it's only proper competitor in the x86/x64 space is AMD, which conveniently for Intel, is some considerable way behind with its flagship Bulldozer architecture. One competitor. Easy to take care of. Could probably kill its x86 business if it wanted to, just by accelerating the performance of its chips by 50%. But then that pesky Competition Commission would start investigating…

However, the ARM CPU is made by literally hundreds of different companies, since ARM Holdings is a fabless company and makes its money by licensing the rights to make the processor. It doesn't take much of a stretch to see that some big hitter like IBM, who has similar expertise in building high performance processors (think PowerPC and POWER) could start competing with a high performance desktop variant of the ARM architecture. AMD will likely do the same, if they want to remain as a CPU manufacturer (they'd still have the profitable graphics card business to fall back on, so wouldn't die). Suddenly, Intel has lots of stiff competition from all sides and that extremely profitable niche that it has sat in for the last 30+ years due to licence exclusivity evaporates, perhaps eventually becoming a me-too commodity player with razor thin margins. Very painful, very humiliating, totally unthinkable. Maybe this is the real reason why Intel only ever made a half-hearted attempt with its Xscale ARM processors and the product line never really took off? It would have to literally be forced like this to make anything more of it.

So, you can see how it's completely in Microsoft's interest to move to ARM and absolutely not for Intel to do so. They now both want diametrically different things out of their long term relationship, so no wonder it's cooling off. Any bets on when the divorce papers will hit?

And now for that video. The short video below, originally found in an interesting article, compares a 1.6 GHz dual core Atom CPU in a netbook against a development board using a Cortex-A9 ARM CPU, configured as a dual core system, running at a mere 500 MHz. Yes, just 500 MHz. The results? Even with the netbook having a graphics accelerator and the ARM dev system not having one, the ARM was only slightly slower than the Atom! Of course, it consumed a lot less power than the Atom CPU too, which is critical. Note that this video dates from Jan 2010 and there's newer versions of both products now. However, it's still valid today, as the performance balance hasn't changed much between the two processor architectures. This is because the differences are inherent to them (x86 is hot and inefficient, basically) so it doesn’t really matter how much each one is tweaked, the performance ratios will stay roughly the same.

Sources: Sign On Sandiego (lots of extra info, well worth a read) and TechEye
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84 Comments on Wintel Alliance Slowly Crumbling, ARM To Eventually Rule The Desktop?

Wile E
Power User
Every single person I know with a smartphone or tablet only use them to surf the web when their computer is not available to them. Mostly because they are unbearably slow.

Just sayin.
Posted on Reply
Just put one of these in my phone!

AppliedMicro X-Gene


From 2 to up to 128

Up to 3GHz

TSMC 40/28nm

Power Usage:
Up to 2W per core

128 cores should do it. Even though it'd pull 256w, that's alright, I leave my phone on my desk (plugged in) anyway.
Posted on Reply
Wile E
Power User
So you have a desktop phone then?
Posted on Reply
Yup. Battery isn't all that great, so it's usually plugged in ;)
Posted on Reply
Windows NT 4 ran on MIPS, Alpha, PowerPC and x86. There's nothing unprecedented about a Windows that runs on multiple CPU architectures. There just hasn't been an architecture other than x86 worth MS's time in a few years.
Posted on Reply
Steevo said:

Just like a console can render a game with far less eye candy, with far less pixels, with far less background tasks and overhead of a standard OS the little 840X480 screens at a whopping 24 or 30 FPS are simply not enough for a FPS with any sort of realism provided by a actual modern GPU on die or not.

Posting shit from youtube and believe it is all real and wonderful is almost a sign of delusion.

How about hard and fast numbers like FPS, AA, AF, display know, the shit that matters to people. Not durp my durper can durp that game like a computer can.....

No one here is impressed by your long post. Talking shit and talking alot of shit are still the same thing.

What large businesses run them right now, what percent marketshare do they have, adoption rates, TCO vs anything, server benchmarks. Editorial pieces and the same spin that was applied to some other failures from other well known and respected companies means little people who write the checks, work on them, work with them, and use them.

Itanium anyone?
dude, you can ignore facts as mujch as you like, just like newtekie1, doesn't make your statements true. if you have any sources, or you know, FACTS to back up your assertions then let's see them.

you'll notice i back up my statements with evidence, and you can dismiss the evidence verbally, but unless you have any supporting evidence yourself, you are refuting merely by voice. your voice isn't enough to carry your assertion as it is akin to asking people to take your word for it.

the FACT is that smartphones and tablets, mobiles in general, are taking market share away from companies like SONY and Nintendo's dedicated portable gaming devices.

it doesn't matter that you think the graphics can't compete and "are simply not enough for a FPS with any sort of realism provided by a actual modern GPU on die or not" . the FACT is that gaming is changing, and you seem to think that it can not.

just as i said refuting his belief that Intel can easily compete with ARM by crippling a current SandyBridge, a la ATOM: ARM don't have to compete with the performance crown, they simply have to make people change their preferences. that's exactly what's happening. less people are buying desktops and dedicated gaming devices as more people use smart-phones and tablets for all their needs.

the desktop market is slowing, that's a FACT (backed up with sources in my previous post), and the handheld gaming market is changing to smartphones and tablets, that's a FACT too.

It's a FACT that ARM is moving into the laptop/desktop and server market. a survey of 30 PC makers revealed that 40% of them are interested in building ARM-based desktops. you can indulge yourself in the sources i previously shared showing Microsft and HP entering the ARM's race, that should enlighten you that desktops and servers are beginning to move away from x86.
Posting shit from youtube and believe it is all real and wonderful is almost a sign of delusion.
the video descriptions seem accurate, and the videos look like integrated graphics chip quality, as well as the settings are there to be noticed if you care to. do you have any evidence to suggest they are not real, or are you again refuting things and expecting people to take your word for it?

do you expect to just talk and make noise, or can you demonstrate your "FACTS" ?
How about hard and fast numbers like FPS, AA, AF, display know, the shit that matters to people. Not durp my durper can durp that game like a computer can.....
well, the basic facts are there in the videos, get off your ass and read them, or stop being wilfully ignorant. as for "what matters to people", clearly the customers leaving dedicated gaming devices for smartphones and tablets DON'T care for "hard and fast numbers"
No one here is impressed by your long post. Talking shit and talking alot of shit are still the same thing.
are we to be instead impressed by your eloquent ranting and unsubstantiated assertions?
What large businesses run them right now, what percent marketshare do they have.....
you see none of what is happening around as being relevant to a possible change in future? do you really think such massive companies and market shifts in customer habits means absolutely nothing?

I wonder what it's like for you to live, ignoring reality around you.
Posted on Reply
If I say i have a apple on my head, a million dollars, or a super duper new derp that derps the is my job to prove it, not someone elses job to disprove it.

So far you have posted editorial pieces that compare a limited number of devices and fail to take into account the fact you don't drop your desktop on the floor while being stupid necessitating the purchase of a new one, and most people keep computers for years and years and years and there is a saturation point.

So again, what is the market saturation, adoption rates VS computers overall, you know, all the shit that really matters?

I only ask as only one person/laptop out of the 50 or so desktop/laptops I run wants a mobile device, the rest still want, need and require a desktop or desktop equivalent. Some however have purchased ipads and other pad devices for pleasure, while maintaining their home PC or even purchasing a new one of those too for the business needs and personal finances.

Plus, here is an invisible picture of a penguin humping a dogs leg while eating a turkey thats wearing a hat.

You can't prove that its not there.
Posted on Reply
Overclocked quantum bit
p3ngwin1 said:


wow, i remember being in school with BBC micro's, and then the school transitioned to Archimedes...damn that thing was a monster from the future. my Acorn Electron at home already had an inferiority complex about the BBC's, that Archimedes didn't improve things !
Hey, just seen this and yeah, awesome. I see we're on the same page. :D I remember the very first time I played with an Archimedes in a shop, it was one of the early ones running Arthur in 1987 and boy that thing was fast! :eek: Everything ran like greased lightening and that's no exaggeration. No wonder it cost over a grand.

An ARM processor can have that feel again with all the turbocharging technology currently put into an x86 put into it. And it would be even better.
Posted on Reply

According to microsoft employee Paul Thurrot they are going to cut the native X86 apps out of the tablet ARM based version of Windows 8, meaning Microsoft only had plans to support mobile ARM devices, much like they are now.

In all the windows 8 testing they have out now there is none on connect for ARM based devices, none for any testing other than X64/X86, and they are asking for more of us to use windows 8 with some new apps that interface between our smartphones and other devices, but they have given us NO software and have even said they do not plan on supporting any 3rd party devices currently. Meaning they have no plans to make a Windows 8 for your phone, tablet, or other device.

There has been a huge push for moving us to cloud based computing, and MS has given us 25GB of cloud storage and 20 hours of cloud based apps per month for testing and using. This does mean that desktops will need less computer power, however this IMHO and in every MS partner questionnaire I fill out for work and personal use/opinion I still express that most CPU intensive apps and company private data will remain on site.

I see ARM as a VIA able AMD'd Intel igent choice sometime in the far future. But not this now.
Posted on Reply