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The year in processors: Intel and ARM competition hots up

20 Dec 2012
Dell Copper ARM-based server sled module

For almost as long as anyone can remember, Intel has dominated the processor market for PCs and servers, while the ARM architecture has been equally ubiquitous in the mobile device space thanks to its focus on power efficiency.

However, with the IT market changing, Intel has been increasingly eyeing the mobile space, while ARM has seen an opportunity to expand into the burgeoning market for servers to drive cloud-based services, and 2012 has been the year when the two really started to cross over into each other's territory.

This year has seen the first Intel-based smartphones hit the market, while several companies are now shipping ARM-based servers to customers with specific requirements around power consumption and density.

Meanwhile, ARM released a 64-bit version of its architecture that will enable it to better target server applications in the future, as Intel also detailed chips designed specifically for the microserver market, a possible pre-emptive strike in a niche where ARM is beginning to get a foothold.

Intel has built itself into the largest chipmaker in the world by focusing largely on performance, and its x86 is still found in the vast majority of servers, plus desktop and laptop PCs.

But with the rise of tablets, smartphones and other mobile devices, battery life has become at least as important an issue as straight performance. At the same time, the mobile sphere has seen the introduction of operating systems such as Android and iOS that are not tied to the x86 processor architecture, as Windows is (or was until recently).

ARM long ago started to specialise in energy efficient chips for the mobile market, and thus has a head start over Intel, which has struggled to cut the power consumption of its x86 chips without losing their performance advantage.

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Daniel Robinson

Daniel Robinson is technology editor at V3, and has been working as a technology journalist for over two decades. Dan has served on a number of publications including PC Direct and enterprise news publication IT Week. Areas of coverage include desktops, laptops, smartphones, enterprise mobility, storage, networks, servers, microprocessors, virtualisation and cloud computing.

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