Being a Brit, Cricket is never very far from my thoughts especially when travelling to India, the biggest cricket mad nation in the world. There is a saying in cricket that you should always think of doing what the opposition would least like, a statement that applies in business too. I was on my way to present a session on Verifying Embedded SW Power Management” at the Embedded System Conference in Bangalore.
With the recent activity by Intel firstly joining forces with TSMC to deliver licensed Atom IP and also acquiring WindRiver, I was interested to see if there was further evidence of Intels mooted ambition to go head to head with ARM on deeply embedded systems at the conference. The Atom was well represented on the Microsoft Stand with local firm iWave displaying for the first time in public a fully integrated battery powered in-car Windows system running on Atom at 1.1/1.6GHz. Whilst this is an exciting step forward in terms of the physical profile of Atom systems the power consumption still pitches it someway above the top-end ARM Cortex A9.
I then headed into the Intel presentation itself and while mention was made of Atom there was a definite emphasis on the higher-end processors and especially the Virtualization technologies being incorporated to the server line. So is the predicted war between Intel and ARM a journalists wish to whip up a media storm or are the battlelines being drawn behind closed doors as Intel prepares an orchestrated attack?
As an outsider it would appear there are at least two barriers for Intel, the first is power consumption, no doubt technology shrinks will progressively improve this, however the Atom is unlikely to challenge for very low power designs. Secondly, there is a lack of a lower-end family to bootstrap embedded customers. Whilst ARM is winning customers on it’s Application Processor offerings, most SoCs have multiple processors of varying degrees of complexity; this is ARMs stronghold. Most deeply embedded products are evolutions of previous designs and integrations of sub-systems. For most customers their previous product offerings used a lower end ARM7 or ARM9 processor they can easily migrate or even incorporate an entire system as a sub-system inside a much bigger SoC.
I was pondering Intel’s lack of low power, lower-end licenseable processor IP last week when I returned from India only to hear the news that ARC is in discussions with a takeover candidate.
Could this be Intel bowling ARM a googly (curve-ball for all those who’d rather a baseball metaphor) ?
This TeamESL blog was provided by Nick Heaton, a Senior Solution Architect within the Cadence Front-End R&D organization, with specific responsibility for the Incisive Verification Kit. Nick is an industry veteran based in the UK with more than 25 years of SoC design and verification experience.
While ARM Holding is going up and Intel Corporation is moving down, I therefore have no dought who will end up being a clear winner in the race to become no.1 micro chip producer in the years to come.
ARM with it ARM7 and ARM9 processor can easily take on Intel Atom for many reasons, firstly ARM7 and ARM9 consume less power and have longer standby times the Intel Atom processor. Secondly the ARM7 and ARM9 is much smaller in size then the Intel Atom, this will reduce cost for hardware vendors.
It should be noted that Apple's shift to Intel was due to low power (and less heat) for laptop designs, which the PowerPC (nor, likely, Cell) was able to achieve at higher speeds. That would indicate to me that Intel had an edge in its semiconductor technology over IBM and/or Freescale in that face-off (sorry, a hockey term ... ice hockey, to be specific!), architecture aside. It will be interesting to see if process becomes a factor in Intel versus ARM battles for mobile platforms!