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.”
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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.
<p>Fortunately as a privately-owned company, ARM didn't have to include a forward-looking disclaimer although they are making forward-looking statements. Of course one can make a proof of concept 7nm or 5nm chip and still not make a high-yield device available to the market. Note, that I'm not claiming they can't do what they are claiming, but we know from the delays Intel has suffered that things don't always turn out how they are planned.</p>
<blockquote><em><a href="#302280">In reply to rbgaynor:</a></em></blockquote><p>It may be so, but a rumor is still a rumor. Time will tell.</p>
<blockquote><em><a href="#302375">In reply to Oreo:</a></em></blockquote><p>Well, as I said, we'll see.</p>
<p>For any of this to be successful one of two things would need to happen.</p><p><br></p><ol><li> ARM licenses x86/64 and builds that capability into ARM chips.</li><li> Everyone ports their software to ARM because as we know, emulation SUCKS.</li></ol><p><br></p><p>I do not think either will happen but I am not sure which one is less likely. I highly doubt Intel would license x86 to ARM. Even if they did ARM chips would become way more complex and then they would run into the same 10nm issues that Intel if facing.</p><p><br></p><p>Intel is a leading CPU maker. They have been ahead of the others for a very long time. If they are having issue with 10nm or less why does anyone think that other companies can do it better? Yes some others will reach 10 or 7nm but those are on way less complex chips. At the same complexity no one is doing 10nm yet. So far nothing beats Intel's IPC. AMD has closed the gap but they are about 7% slower over all and in some cases more than 10%.</p>
<blockquote><em><a href="#302274">In reply to Stooks:</a></em></blockquote><p>I agree. Regardless of license issues, Intel is still the best candidate for improving x86/64 performance. Intel is just serving the demand for x86/64 processors, it's not as if Intel couldn't design a non-legacy CPU just as powerful and energy efficient as an ARM chip. </p><p><br></p><p>As far as number 2 is concerned, developers will have to see a very significant buy-in to ARM by desktop/laptop users before they're likely to port their applications. IMO improved battery life isn't going to be a sufficient motivator for ARM adoption to reach a tipping point. </p>
<blockquote><em><a href="#302371">In reply to Oreo:</a></em></blockquote><p> "It is not true that the chips of the others are “way less complex”. Apple's ARM cores have had a comparable complexity to Intel's for several generations now by any measure (e. g. number of transistors). "</p><p><br></p><p>As you state later in your comment, a lot of ARM chips integrate additional functions beyond the CPU. Those functions may require lower clock speeds and thus lower power. So although I'm not sure if the number of transistors matter either way, ARM vs Intel as far as complexity is concerned may be a bit of an Apples to Oranges comparison. </p><p><br></p><p> "Secondly, software already has been ported en masse to ARM, because practically all smartphones and tablets run on ARM."</p><p><br></p><p>I think it would be correct to say that a lot of mobile code has been designed specifically for ARM. I don't think it's correct to say that a lot of non-ARM based programs have been ported to ARM. Desktop class performance wouldn't mean much if it's not being used to run desktop class applications.</p>
<blockquote><em><a href="#302416">In reply to Oreo:</a></em></blockquote><p>I never claimed any relationship between slower non-CPU element's clock speed and that of a CPU or GPU. I was just suggesting that if those elements share the same die as a CPU than the overall power requirements for the die might be less than an equally-sized die that is 100% dedicated to CPU functions even if the number of transistors is the same in both cases.</p><p><br></p><p>Of course, it depends on a lot of architectural details that may vary from implementation to implementation, so it might not be possible to make a definitive general statement. </p>
<blockquote><em><a href="#302419">In reply to Oreo:</a></em></blockquote><p>Certainly what makes up what one might loosely call the CPU "system" has evolved over time to include those elements you mentioned, but I was referring to functions that aren't traditionally associated with the basic functionality of processing. Perhaps those functions aren't typically included in the same die, but I'm reaching the limits of my knowledge, so I couldn't say. </p>