Gartner: ARM-based devices gaining momentum

Dominance of the x86 processor architecture in the PC industry will be challenged by the sustained growth of ultra-low-cost computers

The x86 architecture's dominance in the PC industry will be significantly challenged as low-cost computers take a bigger footprint in the market, according to Gartner.

Speaking on Thursday at the research firm's 15th Annual Semiconductor Roadshow in Singapore, Christian Heidarson, principal research analyst at Gartner, said the sustained growth of ultra-low-cost PCs would lead to the rise of ARM architecture in two years' time.

By the end of 2011, ARM will be a "small but significant" PC processor architecture, he said. In his presentation, Heidarson suggested that the ARM infrastructure will by then be used in smartbook-like devices and subsequently, in 2013, tapped for other low-cost form factors, such as notebooks and desktops.

ARM-based devices are already gaining momentum due to the emergence of operating platforms including Google's Android and Chrome.

However, the success of ARM's partners, such as Qualcomm and Freescale, in moving to other low-cost form factors would depend on how fast the likes of Windows Mobile, and Google's Android and Chrome, can be scaled up to provide PC-like user experience, Heidarson said. It would also be important to convince carriers to tap ARM-based products, as service-bundling deals offered by telecoms companies had been a contributor to the netbook phenomenon.

The trend toward low-cost notebooks was sparked by the introduction of netbooks, or Intel Atom-based mini-notebooks, he said. Since 2008, PC vendors have introduced or adjusted form factors that closed the gap between ultra-low-cost devices and standard notebooks.

ARM-based smartbooks have also emerged as another cheap form factor alongside mini-notebooks.

Notebook pricing has fallen significantly in the past year, Heidarson added. The average price of a notebook dropped an unprecedented 23 percent — from $900 (£564) in the second quarter of 2008 to $690 during the same period this year.

Moving forward, he said PC costs would fall to an average $200, while $100-priced PCs are expected to be commercially available in China by the time of the country's Golden Week celebrations in October 2013.


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