The steady rise of ARM and the slow death of Intel

They say all good things come to an end, and that is true for products as it's for companies. Certain products propel certain companies to the top and hopefully with enough innovation / iteration, those companies retain their reign at the top for a considerable amount of time. More on that later.

Such has been the story of Intel, a company that has reigned in the semi-conductors industry for a few decades now.

Strong has been its reputation so much so that when I first learned about computers, Intel Core iX, Intel Pentium were one of the first terms I familiarized myself with.

This was important to tell how powerful a computer was going to be, and thusly how useful and cost effect it was for every buck I spent on it.

Seven years down the line and it seems that Intel will surely fade into noise, after all these years. Surely, it's journey into obscurity won't be as abrupt as that of Windows 8 or the windows phone. Nonetheless, going by its recent record, that fate is sure to be upon us in a couple of years.

Intel's fall from glory is not so much a result of a failure to innovate but rather a sign of their tortoise like speed of innovation. During the just closed decade, Intel kept adding marginal cosmetic modifications to their chips. It seemed that they changed names more than they actually changed the their chips cores. Remember how long it took Intel after they announced that they would be moving from 14nm to 1nmm desktop processor designs?

Intel's grip on the chips industry is slowly sliding

Of course, being the monopoly that they were in their space, they somehow it appeared as though they could get away with this sluggishness. After all, their closest competitor, AMD has long been distant underdogs who couldn't hold a candle to Intels product. Until of course, they recently proved that they now can.

And just when you think that AMD's challenge is somewhat of a threat, it seems that the steady rise of ARM chips architecture could be the blow that would bring the wobbling Intel's dominance to its knees.

For years now companies such as Apple, Microsoft, Huawei, Samsung, Qualcomm and Amazon have been looking into ARM chip technology and ARM based chips integration. Some of this, especially those actively involved in production mobile phones have been doing both. Others such as Amazon and Microsoft have been toying with the idea of using ARM based servers. Umh, not really they're actually building ARM servers.

These developments make it more likely that ARM based PCs are not only going to be a thing but rather possibly the thing in the pc industry this decade. Given the benefits that ARM based chips have shown on mobile phones, and on servers, the move seems all the more inevitable.

Asked about the ARM chips on PCs, Linus Torvalds hinted that a move to ARM servers was likely to be more successful there were more affordable ARM PCs available to developers. After all, he argued, developers like to deploy to server architecture similar to their development environments irrespective of the costs.

This brings us to the rumours that Apple may be moving their macs lineup, or a portion of it to ARM chips. Most likely they will do it systematically.

How about pc marketshare?

But doesn't Apple only a small portion of the worldwide pc space? Yes it does. But that's really besides the point for two reasons.

  1. Most developers and to an extent creators use Apple's macs.
  2. Most pc companies will most likely follow Apple's lead.

What's the fuss about ARM pcs?

Well, there a couple of benefits that justifies the excitement behind introduction of ARM based PCs. And no, it's has little to do with doing away with X86 and adopting X64 stuck.

I'm of the opinion that User Experience using a product is the most important part about any given product.

In this context, for the regular user, the benefits of ARM PCs would be:

  1. Longer battery lifes

    for their pc batteries due to better power efficiency by these new PCs. This improvement would mean less need to carry chargers around. And yes, we know that mac and high end window/linux-based pc users have had this benefit for quite some time. Wouldn't be great if everyone else joined the club?

    Similarly, since not everyone uses their laptops for 8+ hours a day, these could also mean that some users (a lot of users) would charge their laptops a couple of times per week. Thusly halting battery degradation by delaying battery cyles tally.

    Lastly and hopefully, these would lead to the production of fanless laptops. Products that emit less heat as well. Perhaps slimmer, lighter laptops that don't try to fry our laps.

  2. Bridge mobile and desktop apps development

    Developers, yay. Perhaps there's some benefits to be found here.