ARM to wrestle x86 as low-cost PCs thrive

The x86 architecture's dominance in the PC industry will be significantly challenged as low-cost computers take a bigger footprint in the market, according to Garter.

Speaking Thursday at the research firm's 15th Annual Semiconductor Roadshow here, Christian Heidarson, principal research analyst at Gartner, noted that the sustained growth of ultra-low cost PCs would lead to the rise of the ARM architecture in two years' time.
By end-2011, ARM will be a "small but significant" PC processor architecture, he said. In his presentation, Heidarson suggested that the ARM infrastructure will by then be used in smartbook-like devices, and subsequently in 2013, tapped for other low-cost form factors such as notebooks and desktops.
ARM-based devices are already gaining momentum due to the emergence of operating platforms including Google's Android and Chrome.
However, the success of ARM's partners such as Qualcomm and Freescale, in moving to other low-cost form factors would depend how fast the likes of Windows Mobile, and Google's Android and Chrome can be scaled up to provide PC-like user experience, Heidarson pointed out. It would also be important to convince carriers to tap ARM-based products as service bundling deals offered by telcos had been a contributor to the netbook phenomenon.
The trend toward low-cost notebooks was sparked by the introduction of netbooks, or Intel Atom-based mini-notebooks, he said. Since 2008, PC vendors have introduced or adjusted form factors that closed the gap between ultra-low cost devices and standard notebooks.
ARM-based smartbooks have also emerged as another cheap form factor alongside mini-notebooks.
Notebook pricing has fallen significantly in the last year, the Gartner analyst added. The average price of a notebook dropped an unprecedented 23 percent, from US$900 in the second quarter of 2008 to US$690 during the same period in 2009.
Moving forward, he said PCs cost would fall to an average U$200 price tag, while US$100-priced PCs are expected to be commercially available in China by the country's Golden Week celebrations in October 2013.