Arm today disclosed its roadmap for CPU performance improvements through 2020. And the chipset designer has Intel in its sights.
“Advances in Arm technology have brought desktop-class PC performance into our smartphones, fundamentally changing how we use technology in our daily lives,” Arm’s Nandan Nayampally explains. “Arm is now applying this same design leadership … to enable the PC industry to overcome [its] reliance on Moore’s law – which has definitely slowed – and deliver a high-performance, always-on, always-connected laptop experience.”
Put simply, Arm—like Qualcomm, its biggest licensee—is pushing into the PC market and is advancing its chipsets for this market at an accelerated rate. The results are smaller, more efficient chips—10 nm today, 7 nm later this year, and then 5 nm in 2020—and, as important, more powerful chips.
Whether Arm’s chipsets will ever truly compete with Intel is sort of beside the point, as in some ways they don’t have to. With Intel pushing forward with more powerful chips that have more processing cores, it will have the premium and gaming markets to itself. This leaves the larger, mainstream part of the market open to some competition. And Arm—and Qualcomm—may be ideally positioned to compete there.
“Our client CPUs … combined with innovations from our silicon and foundry partners will enable Arm SoCs to break through the dominance of x86 and gain substantial market share in Windows laptops and Chromebooks over the next five years,” Nayampally claims.
That said, Arm’s comparisons are a tad disingenuous. It is claiming that its 2019- and 2020-era chips will outperform Intel’s Core i5 chips. But the Intel chips it is comparing are previous-generation dual-core designs, not the quad-core 8th-generation chips that Intel started shipping last year.
Which is fine, on some level: After all, dual-core Intel Core chips offer enough performance for virtually all mainstream users.
So the real question is whether Arm and licensees disrupt the PC/Chromebook market. And on that note, yes, I think they can. And some combination of Core i5 performance—even previous-gen Core i5 performance—with incredible battery life and integrated connectivity is the right recipe for the mainstream part of the market.