Even as Intel pummels its competition in every processor category, there is another voice that comes a-challenging.
ARM — the processor that has been powering our smartphones and PDAs and PMPs and miscellaneous pocket-sized devices — will now poke its head into the booming netbook market, which has thus far been dominated by Intel’s Atom. The company will work with Canonical to build a flavour of Ubuntu optimised for the new ARMv7 architecture, and is targeting netbooks of all shapes and sizes.
There is much to be said in favour of this move. Firstly, as you might have doubtless noticed, your (ARM-based) smartphones can last for a goodish while before needing a charge. If ARM does it right, they are better poised to give us a netbook with spectacular battery life than anyone else. For, you see, while Intel’s trying to get its x86 chips to consume less power, the ARM architecture was designed with power consumption in mind right from the beginning. Secondly, there’s video. ARM’s mastered the art of playing high-quality video without consuming too much power, and a souped-up ARM might even be able to handle HD video with more finesse than the Atom. Finally, there’s the fact that ARM’s RISC (Reduced Instruction Set Computing) architecture is inherently more efficient than the x86 architecture, so in the right hands, the ARM could potentially outperform the Atom.
The same RISC that makes the ARM so great, could also be its undoing. A badly written block of code could throw off its performance considerably, thrashing all our dreams of a fast netbook that lasts a whole day on a single charge. And you know you don’t want that.