Those designs are licensed to the likes of Samsung and Qualcomm, who put their own IP on top of the architecture and sell the chip. ARM’s Connected Community program boasts more than 1,000 partners in everything from design to manufacturing.
It’s a model that ARM and its proponents argue promotes competition and speeds up innovation. ARM officials said the 50 billionth ARM-based chip shipped in the 2013 fourth quarter. Now ARM wants to move its technology up the ladder and into the PC and server spaces to chip away at Intel’s massive market share.
“It’s a very different approach,” Laurence Bryant, vice president of strategic marketing at ARM, told eWEEK. Intel’s model “is very vertically integrated … where we’re very horizontal. [ARM’s approach is] about delivering the best experience, the lowest power and the highest integration with partnerships.”
Through the vast array of partners, ARM can achieve a level of integration—with other companies putting their own technologies atop ARM’s—that is difficult to do as a single vendor, Bryant said.
Working with partners, including tech heavyweights like Samsung and Qualcomm, is also a way for ARM—which last year for the first time generated more than $1 billion in revenues—to spread the workload and to give it a chance to compete with Intel, which in 2013 saw $52.7 billion in revenues.
“ARM is an extremely innovative and accomplished company, and it’s proving effective through a series of collaborative partnerships,” King said.
So each company is looking to move from a position of strength into new markets heavily controlled by the other one, while at the same time eagerly eyeing the nascent, relatively wide-open and potentially very lucrative IoT space. And both sides see 2014 as a significant year in their efforts.
Executives at Intel—like many of their brethren at other established tech vendors like Hewlett-Packard, Dell and Microsoft—were slow to recognize the impact smartphones and tablets would have in the industry as a whole and the PC market in particular.
While serving as CEO, Paul Otellini said several times that although tablets were a fast-growing part of the PC market, they essentially were “additive” devices, complementing the more robust traditional notebooks users relied on. However, as the global PC market contracted over the past couple of years—sales fell off 10 percent in 2013, according to Gartner—Intel has ratcheted up the innovation around its low-power Atom platform, enhancing performance while driving down power consumption in an effort to offer OEMs an alternative to ARM.
Atom chips also can support Android as well as Microsoft’s Windows, an important step given that Android is found in the bulk of mobile devices.
A significant step came last year when Intel unveiled its 22-nanometer Silvermont SoC micro-architecture that company executives said meets or exceeds ARM’s architecture in performance and energy efficiency. Earlier Atom chips had failed to gain Intel much traction in mobile devices.
“We’re breaking the myth that ARM can do things that Intel cannot,” Dadi Perlmutter, then executive vice president, general manager of the Intel Architecture Group and Intel’s chief product officer, said last year at Silvermont’s launch.
The Atom Z3000 Bay Trail SoCs launched in September 2013 sport the Silvermont architecture and are aimed at tablets and new form factors, such as two-in-one systems that can be used as a tablet or notebook. At the Mobile World Congress 2014 show on Feb. 24, Intel unveiled the 64-bit Atom Z3480 Merrifield chips for smartphones. Silvermont and Merrifield are 22nm chip families, and Intel is already working on the next 14nm version.