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Will the ARM Architecture Take Over the CPU Market and Is AMD/Intel’s X86 in Trouble?

This is an interesting and complex question but so far the answer is no. There are some specific points especially in the laptop market after Qualcomm introduced their Snapdragon X Series and Windows has made a quick but rather “lacking” switch to an ARM based architecture. Even though they’re trying to convince the general public that we all need their Copilot AI integrated into every aspect of our relationship with the laptops they just released, so far the impact is as minimal as it gets in the PC market.

ARM’s Progress

The main selling points from Qualcomm and ARM for laptop and PC manufacturers to start using ARM based chips are battery life and power consumption. So far we can see some impressive battery life in the new Microsoft Surface laptops that have been released exclusively with the new Snapdragon X CPU’s, almost similar to Apple’s M series.

In terms of performance, based on current benchmarks the freshly released ARM based Qualcomm Snapdragons are actually falling behind some of the newest Intel and AMD x86 releases like the Lunar Lake Series which are *cough* *cough*  manufactured primarily inside TSMC’s fabs (for now).

Apple’s “Evil” Influence

Apple’s transition to custom ARM based chips with their M series (also physically made by TSMC’s fabs in Taiwan) for their Mac lineup has been highly successful which kind of created a roadmap demonstrating the potential of ARM in both laptops and regular sized PCs.

Windows on ARM

Microsoft has been working to improve Windows compatibility with ARM processors. What we can see so far is that you will need A LOT of emulators because a crap ton of software designed for Windows is still stuck in the X86 era. So apart from the fact that performance isn’t anything to write home about, using software emulators to run pretty much anything on your new ARM based Windows laptop will severely impact your performance levels.

Intel and AMD Have Responsed Pretty Quickly

For starters, Intel’s Pat Gelsinger has dismissed ARM as “insignificant” and that’s already some major progress right there (pun intended). But in all seriousness, both companies have been making some pretty massive progress on improving their x86 designs to compete with the ARM architecture mostly on power efficiency and battery life.

The main way both Intel (through their own fabs) and AMD (through TSMC’s nodes) are trying to achieve lower power consumption is by minimizing the chip density design as close to 1 nanometer as possible. Just for reference an atom is between 0.1 and 0.5 nanometers in size. And so far, Intel seems to be on the roadmap to release their 18A manufacturing process which is (1.8 nanometers in size) by 2025. This will technically put them at a high advantage compared to ARM when it comes to power consumption and heat dissipation.

Market Segments Where ARM Will Shine Like a Bright Little Star

Small and thin laptops. Period. ARM will definitely see more success in specific segments like ultra thin and small laptops before they make their way into large PCs and workstations (which they never might in the first place).

Ecosystem Things

The vast x86 software ecosystem is pretty much the most significant MOAT that Intel and AMD have right now. Software development is slow and tedious, just look at GTA 6 for example. It takes years to develop some of the 200 GB software we run nowadays and few software companies will want to flip that switch and have a dedicated ARM developing team and double their developing costs. After all we all have some shareholders to please.

Intel and AMD Do Have Some Strategies to Dilute ARM’s Impact

  • Intel’s hybrid architecture *big.LITTLE* in their newer generation processors vastly improves power consumption in terms of efficiency.
  • AMD has started focusing on improved power efficiency in their Ryzen processors instead of always trying to beat the benchmarks.
  • Both companies started investing in advanced manufacturing processes to compete with ARM’s efficiency. Mainly centered around maximizing chip density as close to 1 nanometer as possible.

Intel’s Biggest Hope

Intel’s biggest advantage in this super competitive industry is that they actually started building some new fabs which are advanced factories that build chips for (hopefully) both Intel and other fabless companies like Nvidia and AMD.

The reason this is Intel’s big bet is because this will pretty much offer them some insurance if ARM does end up taking over the laptop market. Since both x86 and ARM are complex instruction sets they are technically pieces of software. Since Intel is concentrating on physical manufacturing, they have a chance of even building ARM based CPU’s for other fabless companies in the future. Intel has even shown willingness to manufacture chips that compete with their own products.

So if there is one company that has taken some steps to offset the big ARM boogeyman it’s probably Intel but only if their massive Ireland, Arizona, Ohio and Israel fabs come to full operation and they start using the newly purchased ASML High NA-EUV lithography tools that cost them a couple hundred million dollars.

Cloud Computing’s Impact and a Black Mirror Type Future Where You Might Not Run Anything Locally

Cloud computing might just reduce the importance of local CPU architecture for most of your applications in the future anyway when you think about it. Since the chip market is advancing so much these days there is a chance that in the future you won’t run much software locally anyway so your CPU’s architecture won’t matter that much.

This idea is similar to what we already have right now with cloud gaming platforms like Nvidia’s GeForce Now. There is also a high chance you already do most of your work using a Firefox or Chrome browser window anyway, so we have already made some progress into the lack of local access to the software you use on the computer.

The Single Threaded and Multi Threaded Issue

ARM chips are better performance wise in single threaded tasks while x86 is great for multi threaded and high power scenarios. Multi threaded tasks are super important for things like video editing or rendering where multiple cores working simultaneously can give you much faster results.

Ironically gaming is mainly a single threaded tasks where you want your single threads to be able to maintain a super high load. Maybe we’ll get to see advanced gaming on ARM based CPU’s in the future? Right now the biggest issue is that you can count the number of important games that run on ARM on your fingers. So Intel and AMD can breathe a sigh of relief for now.

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