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ARM announcements indicate significant impact

Posted: 11 Jan 2011     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:computing  semiconductor manufacturing  software 

Significant implications for the electronics industry are indicated with the recent Windows-on-ARM and ARM chips from Nvidia announcements.

On January 5, 2011, Steve Ballmer, CEO, Microsoft Corp., said the next version of Windows will run on ARM. Also, Jen-Hsun Huang co-founder, president and CEO, Nvidia Corp., announced the chipmaker will deliver a complete line of ARM chips for computing.

These two announcements have shaken the computing industry to its foundations, and their full impact cannot yet be known. However, it is certain that all forms of computing from notebooks to supercomputers will see lower power, lower cost versions based on integrated ARM SoCs.

That fact alone has long term repercussions for everything from the emerging tablet market to billion dollar datacenters starved for electricity. It will even bring home PCs to modest dwellings that would never otherwise have seen them.

These issues have socio-economic implications that will ripple far beyond the history of an industry. But the implications for the electronics industry are also significant.

Intel, the world's largest semiconductor maker, will not be able to sustain average selling prices that are dozens and sometimes hundreds of dollars over those of other chipmakers. It will find itself unable to sustain the vertically integrated business model in which it is the world's largest operator of chip fabrication plants.

There is some inherent danger for the whole semiconductor industry here. What happens when no one company has the motivation and financial clout to plough through the enormously difficult tasks of delivering new chip processing technologies?

Intel helped pioneer extreme UV lithography, the long delayed printing technology still expected to drive the industry to ultra-fine chip patterns. It is also driving the shift to larger wafers.

The need for many small players to collaborate on the future of chip technology will complicate the financial and social aspects of technical tasks that are already nearly insurmountable. Expect slower progress right at the time when CMOS technology hits atom-sized limits in physics and demands radically new approaches.

And what about systems companies? Hewlett-Packard is the world's largest user of semiconductors, most of them going into x86 PCs and servers often defined at the motherboard level by Intel and AMD.


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