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back to article ARM rains on x86 as smartphones outship PCs

Netbooks are so yesterday's technology. Shipments of the small, not-so-cheap computers plunged during 2011 by 25 per cent, figures from market watcher Canalys show. The decline worsened during the year, with year-on-year shipments down more than 32 per cent during the final quarter of 2011. All other PC categories experienced …

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Power

I need my laptop to deliver a fair whack of power. I know that's not everyone's use case, but it'll be a while before ARM can fit the bill for me.

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Intel worried?

They should be.

It has been suggested / reported / deduced that MS and / or Apple are going to start doing proper ARM versions of their mainline OSes. Linux is, of course, already there. The OEMs (in MS's case) could then start manufacturing laptops with ARMs in them and offer customers a choice. There will always be users who genuinely need a lot of compute grunt, but most people would probably value battery life over raw horsepower.

That'd be great for end users, ARM, MS, Apple and the OEMs, but almost certainly not so good for Intel. Nor AMD.

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Not so sure

Whilst I'm a huge fan of ARM I am still amazed by Intel. ARM has juicy revenues but look at how much money Intel makes in absolute terms. And that is with the added costs and risks of actual fabs. ARM's architecture may well win long term but I think Intel may well end up as one of the winners.

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No surprise on netbooks

People bought netbooks because they wanted a highly portable computer, and there wasn't really any other option that fit the bill. Consumers were dubious about buying such a tiny machine with cramped keyboard and screen - but that led vendors to further chop down the specs to cut the prices.

The result was an impressive achievement - a machine that managed performance so far behind that of mainstream computers that people noticed how bad it was even while just browsing the web (though advertisers with their ubiquitous flash advertisements helped with that). Combined with the cramped keyboard that makes it unsuitable for productivity, and we've got a computer that's not suitable for any use case.

If you don't need a good keyboard, get a tablet (many netbook keyboards suck so bad as to be barely better than a touchscreen keyboard) - they're more portable, sexier, and have better performance on popular web apps (because they see the mobile version of said sites, rather than the full bloat version that netbooks get) usually have higher screen resolution.

A 11.x inch ultrabook would fill the role initially envisioned for a netbook nicely. The slightly larger area gives it room for a better keyboard, and they have the performance to actually do what people want them to... but of course, they're priced too high for most people to consider them.

I'm sure we'll see ARM-based, ultrathin, 10-11 inch laptops in formfactors similar to ultrabooks, with longer battery life, somewhat lower performance, and touchscreens once Windows 8 comes out (and I'm surprised we don't already see them, running android). Wonder what they'll be called? They can't call them "Ultrabooks", AMD's called "Ultrathins" for AMD-powered ultrabooks, and "netbook" associates them with those less than stellar devices.

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Meh

Well very few use cases.

I got a netbook some years ago to take camping with me. I got about 9 hours out of it, compared to the three or so i got out of the best laptop. Easilly enough for a 7 days in a field (Providing your not using it all the time of course, in which case, whats the point in camping?)

Late last year, i replaced it with a Tablet so i wont be getting another one.

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Great surprise on netbooks

I found a lot of uses for those cheap netbooks at home and at work:

(1) Protect my thinkpad -- the kids get their youtube on the netbook.

(2) Dedicated web tool -- email, news, and videos run just fine on a 2009, 200 €, Linux Mint Netbook. No more "can I use your computer for a moment".

(3) Diagnostics in the lab -- Just carry the netbook to that camera, ADC, motor controller, ... it's so much faster than searching for long cables. And if you need more ports, just get another netbook.

It won't replace the desktop in terms of computing power, but it's an affordable tool for lots of applications. Maybe it will be replaced by cheap tablets, but I'll be carrying a keybord to make the tablet a proper netbook replacement!

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Azzy

the thing to note is we could have had netbooks a long while ago - and we did. But they wouldnt run Windows and were pushed out of the way. They still cant run windows - windows without office is not windows and will, on ARM, go the way of winphone.

But we will have netbooks - at last.

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Intel used to do the StrongARM processor, why are they so against selling ARM chips now?

x86 has its uses but it is too power hungry and expensive for mobiles. I can get an ARM dev board for £20, Intel Atom boards are much more expensive from what I can see.

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StrongARM

A severe case of NIH Syndrome

http://c2.com/cgi/wiki?NotInventedHere

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Alert

StrongARM

It came from Digital Equipment Corp as part payment in a patent spat.

After a little development they sold most of the ARM stuff to Marvel, though kept a comms SOC with ARM core.

So I wouldn't say they were ever very keen. Their own i960 RISC controller was popular once, but Intel failed to develop it sensibly and do good SOC.

Part of the success of ARM is that it's usually just a small part of an SOC. Even 4 or 5 years ago an ARM SoC might have had the equivalent I/O of an entire laptop motherboard. I used the Samsung 6400 SOC before iPhone and it has the Flash and RAM chips stacked on the ARM SoC all in a 3mm high package. So no Flash or RAM PCB traces or PCB footprint. Intel still don't have an SoC with all the I/O of that part (inc Graphics) low enough power to stack even one other chip on top.

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Anonymous Coward

Good summary

Except it's Marvell not Marvel.

But you knew that, and now other readers do too.

I also like the mention that it's the vast array of ARM licencees making SoCs that make ARM what it is. How many SoC licencees will Intel have in two years, or five years, time?

Package on package is neat too. See (e.g, iirc) raspberry pi.

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Anonymous Coward

Because netbooks

became the same size and the same price as full-fat notebooks, but still a fraction of the oomph.

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h3
Bronze badge

I would buy a Netbook to replace my Thinkpad X31 if it had a Matte screen 2GB ram / Linux / 32 GB flash (Ideally 64GB) / decent keyboard. (And it was cheaper than a similar second hand ultra portable).

The reason I won't buy one is they all have glossy screen's and cost too much for what they are.

(Even more so compared to tieroneonline corporate refurb X series Thinkpads).

Most laptops/netbooks are just so poor quality with low availability of spares that I would never buy them (At least out of my money.)

I was interested in the Lenovo smartbook until it was axed quite liked the look of the Toshiba Android netbook (But I would run normal Linux on it). Android sucks even on a tablet (I have a Xoom - really want Tizen on it).

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A PC has more ARM CPUs than Intel CPUs

A typical disk drive (rotating or SSD) will have two or three ARM cores in it. Then there's the Wifi module and Bluetooth modules. Most likely ARM too. Then there are sundry other controllers in everything from CD drives to mice to power supplies. Many of those are ARM.

So every Intel Inside PC likely has a whole pile more ARMs.

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Linux

Netbooks will be back

With ARM chips and touchscreens AND (most critically) a UI appropriate to their form factor with a price which doesn't rival an MBA.

I'm not sure that Intel is worried about current ARM usage. Sure they'd like some of the mobile market but it isn't hurting them margin-wise. What I suspect does worry them is the move people seem to be expecting of Apple and MS to look at putting out notebooks on higher-power ARM chips.

Unless MS do some serious house-keeping code-wise, I'm not sure general windows on ARM will be much of a threat, but iOS/OSX and Android/Linux might threaten both to Intel and MS's non-gaming home market.

Gaming and video-transcoding is probably all that's left pushing the home pc market upgrade path. Might we see dedicated transcoding chippery from ARM? With six and eight cores looking likely to be the norm this year for the CPU it makes me wonder what will be next. Will people buy a PC and run it for 6 years? Will the creaking franchises of BF & CoD be commercially viable to code for on 12-16 cores? When is the desktop market going to eat the server-market's lunch? Will intel just make rubbish quality products that burn out and need replacing after two-years?

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Unhappy

It's not that we don't want Netbooks anymore, it's just that we already have one, and there has been no significant advance in the form factor over the last 2-3 years to justify getting a new one.

* Under powered Atom

* 1024x768 screen

* 1GB memory, max 2GB

* Crappy starter version of windows

* Reasonable battery life.

* Around £250

That spec could have been 2010, 2011 or 2012.

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