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Why ARM Doesn't Have to Beat x86 to Win

MacRumors

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Original poster
Apr 12, 2001
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An Arstechnica article from February outlines some of the challenges Intel has with the emerging strength of ARM processors. While Ars points out that ARM simply can't beat Intel from a performance perspective -- at least any time soon -- they also point out that they don't have to become dominant in the marketplace.
If it turns out that the ARM ecosystem can get within a factor of two of x86 in terms of performance and performance per watt as ARM chips move to higher levels of size and complexity, and if that ecosystem can simultaneously keep the cost of ARM chips much lower than that of x86 chips, then ARM could do to x86 what x86 did to Alpha, MIPS, SPARC, PowerPC, and the other RISC workstation architectures. Intel used its process strength to get close enough to RISC workstation and server performance that the PC's status as a low-cost commodity machine gave the PC an edge. We all know how the story played out: the high-end RISC vendors were marginalized, as the lower volumes on their now-boutique chips kept their prices up; meanwhile, Intel relentlessly narrowed the performance gap and moved the PC into new markets because it was dramatically cheaper and almost as good.
via @cvaucher

Article Link: Why ARM Doesn't Have to Beat x86 to Win
 

Vol7ron

macrumors 6502
Jun 11, 2009
281
189
Derry, NH
the biggest problem is that Intel stole the technology from Digital. Coupled with Digital's new CEO running the company into the ground, the Alpha chip never really took off. Otherwise Intel would be in the same league as AMD right now, with Digital leading the way in processors. Sad really, cause CISC architecture is much better this RISC. That is the #1 reason why Apple computers were so powerful back in the day with lower speeds.

The problem now is that so much software is tightly integrated into the x86 architecture. Imagine the nightmare of having to try and shift over to a newer technology.
 
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arn

macrumors god
Staff member
Apr 9, 2001
15,648
4,424
the biggest problem is that Intel stole the technology from Digital. Coupled with Digital's new CEO running the company into the ground, the Alpha chip never really took off. Otherwise Intel would be in the same league as AMD right now, with Digital leading the way in processors. Sad really, cause CISC architecture is much better this RISC. That is the #1 reason why Apple computers were so powerful back in the day with lower speeds.

The problem now is that so much software is tightly integrated into the x86 architecture. Imagine the nightmare of having to try and shift over to a newer technology.

I think that problem will subside over time.

All mobile platforms are not tied to x86, which represents a huge market.
Windows 8 will support ARM so Windows 8 era applications will also likely support ARM.

arn
 
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Makosuke

macrumors 603
Aug 15, 2001
6,327
593
The Cool Part of CA, USA
This explains a small part of the reason I think the front-page rumor about Apple moving higher-end computers to ARM not too far down the road is probably true.

An important thing that the Ars quote above doesn't mention is the performance requirement of the average consumer computer user. The fact of the matter is, the average person with a desktop PC probably won't notice any appreciable difference between a Core 2 Duo with 4GB of RAM and a quad-core i7 Sandy Bridge with 16GB. Consumer apps, apart from more serious games, just don't need that kind of power.

Photoshop jockeys and video editors, yes, but 95% of computer users browse the web, watch a few videos, type some documents, send some email, play a few casual games, and use a few special-purpose native apps if they can figure out how to install them. The iPad demonstrated that a 1GHz single-core ARM chip is sufficient for this, and the iPad 2 that a 2-core ~1GHz ARM with 512MB of RAM is enough to do these things and feel pretty snappy.

I may need a 4-core CPU with at least 8GB of RAM to do what I do, but my wife and my parents really don't.

I don't see some magical super-CPU-intensive killer app changing that, so really a desktop ARM chip only needs to get to a moderate fraction of a modern x86 processor to seem sufficiently fast to the vast majority of users. Combine that with the price thing Ars is pointing out, and if I were Intel I'd be pretty uncomfortable right now.

From the Apple perspective, it's worth noting that they sell six times as many ARM-based computers as they do x86-based ones, and they have an in-house ARM design team and a custom CPU, while their much-smaller-volume x86 stuff is off the shelf from a 3rd party vendor they have no control over in terms of features. I don't think Apple wants to build its own chip fabs, but they could easily throw a few billion dollars at somebody else to front the cost of a factory. Heck, they could outspend Intel's entire R&D budget for a decade with just what they have in the bank.
 
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MoonDogg

macrumors newbie
Jul 13, 2008
29
0
Arkansas
the biggest problem is that Intel stole the technology from Digital. Coupled with Digital's new CEO running the company into the ground, the Alpha chip never really took off. Otherwise Intel would be in the same league as AMD right now, with Digital leading the way in processors. Sad really, cause CISC architecture is much better this RISC. That is the #1 reason why Apple computers were so powerful back in the day with lower speeds.

The problem now is that so much software is tightly integrated into the x86 architecture. Imagine the nightmare of having to try and shift over to a newer technology.

I think you got that backwards... Alpha & PowerPC is RISC and Intel x86 is CISC... not the other way around. :cool:
 
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blow45

macrumors 68000
Jan 18, 2011
1,576
0
sorry this is a misguided attempt at a page 2 rumor, to vindicate the much (and rightly) maligned page 1 arm rumor, that was very weak to begin with.

let it rest, for anyone in the know, this discussion is unfounded or just plain inane.

we'll talk about arm and intel in 5 years from now, and there's amd too, to early to say anything intelligent.
 
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trip1ex

macrumors 68020
Jan 10, 2008
2,071
463
Probably would see iOS desktops and laptops before you see OSX ARM laptops and desktops.

For the reasons others stated here. The folks that would be fine with lesser cpu wouldn't need full flavored OSX.

Now granted iOS is a subset of OSX. And I wouldn't doubt if OSX is already running on ARM chips in the lab.

But I think you'd see ARM in lower cost iOS computers first.
 
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DualShock

macrumors 6502a
Jun 29, 2008
564
120
This explains a small part of the reason I think the front-page rumor about Apple moving higher-end computers to ARM not too far down the road is probably true.

An important thing that the Ars quote above doesn't mention is the performance requirement of the average consumer computer user. The fact of the matter is, the average person with a desktop PC probably won't notice any appreciable difference between a Core 2 Duo with 4GB of RAM and a quad-core i7 Sandy Bridge with 16GB. Consumer apps, apart from more serious games, just don't need that kind of power.

Photoshop jockeys and video editors, yes, but 95% of computer users browse the web, watch a few videos, type some documents, send some email, play a few casual games, and use a few special-purpose native apps if they can figure out how to install them. The iPad demonstrated that a 1GHz single-core ARM chip is sufficient for this, and the iPad 2 that a 2-core ~1GHz ARM with 512MB of RAM is enough to do these things and feel pretty snappy.

I may need a 4-core CPU with at least 8GB of RAM to do what I do, but my wife and my parents really don't.

I don't see some magical super-CPU-intensive killer app changing that, so really a desktop ARM chip only needs to get to a moderate fraction of a modern x86 processor to seem sufficiently fast to the vast majority of users. Combine that with the price thing Ars is pointing out, and if I were Intel I'd be pretty uncomfortable right now.

From the Apple perspective, it's worth noting that they sell six times as many ARM-based computers as they do x86-based ones, and they have an in-house ARM design team and a custom CPU, while their much-smaller-volume x86 stuff is off the shelf from a 3rd party vendor they have no control over in terms of features. I don't think Apple wants to build its own chip fabs, but they could easily throw a few billion dollars at somebody else to front the cost of a factory. Heck, they could outspend Intel's entire R&D budget for a decade with just what they have in the bank.

Another thing to keep in mind is the operating system running on top of the chips, be they x86, ARM, Alpha, whatever.

Best example: Why is the original iPhone's UI responsiveness smooth like butter, when compared to Android phones of about 1 year ago? In other words, why does scrolling on Android phones with 1 GHz CPU's stutter, while it is very smooth on the original iPhone running with a 400 MHz CPU? It's the way the OS is implemented. Apple used hardware acceleration heavily, while Android did not (or at least they didn't, they may use it now).

This also explains why netbooks are crap, compared to the iPad, in terms of performance. In a netbook, you are running a full blown (and bloated) Windows XP/7 install, on a CPU that, architecturally, is the equivalent of an overclocked Pentium, circa 1993. In the iPad, the OS is optimized to run on ARM, hence the perceived increase in performance.
 
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kiljoy616

macrumors 68000
Apr 17, 2008
1,795
0
USA
Photoshop jockeys and video editors, yes, but 95% of computer users browse the web, watch a few videos, type some documents, send some email, play a few casual games, and use a few special-purpose native apps if they can figure out how to install them. The iPad demonstrated that a 1GHz single-core ARM chip is sufficient for this, and the iPad 2 that a 2-core ~1GHz ARM with 512MB of RAM is enough to do these things and feel pretty snappy.

.

I concur with you except for gaming I would say the biggest change in performance for me was going to SSD and not i7 or memory. I can see where except for maybe 5% of the population even a core 2 duo is overkill and what they really want is smooth easy usage. Considering that there is less code for the iOS my own family is now using an iPad 2 as their main computer than going out and buying a new full blow desktop.

I setup my parents who are retired with an ipad 2 and keyboard they get video conference with us they get internet and mail, and as for games and reading books they have really take to it. My wife has been leaving her laptop at home and using her ipad 2 for the last month she really has hand no need for a much heavier and complicated laptop since she basically does training and healthcare so its not computer heavy work.

I still need power but I am in that 5% but I do maybe even the Air going to a quad core ARM its not like it can't do it right now.
 
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patohi

macrumors regular
Sep 16, 2009
157
70
I know alot of people buy higher end systems just for gaming. 3 to 5 years from now I expect to see "onlive" type services being used for gaming. I know onlive is not popular...but thats because its onlive... now if there was a PSN, xboxlive or nintendo steaming option!!!! Broadband speeds should be much faster as well. The cloud will make more sense! everyone will steam music, videos, games etc... If you have all your pictures and videos uploaded to the web the cloud will deal with the cpu intensive work of editing!

So if ARM can achieve current intel performance in 3 years... why can't apple switch and sell along with it the APPLE icloud experience!!!!
 
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MShock

macrumors member
Apr 7, 2008
84
0
With Lion, the king of cats, on the way … I'll wager a bet that this is the last version of OSX. The desktop OS will need to integrate the internet differently from the way it does now, probably more like webOS or the new Gnome 3.0 desktop. iOS is the opener for this transition, Apple can develop it from a mobile perspective and take its feature to OSX slowly to adapt to increased ubiquity with desktop internet activity. I'm not saying all things will become "appified", but the internet will become a new layer in everything from the desktop to the apps (a good example is Office 2011, where they sync with the cloud but you need cpu power for intensive tasks). An OSXI, where this will debut, could be made to work on both ARM and X86 like Windows 8. I see Macbooks with 14 and 16 inch screens running nvidia's project denver in this space. And I just pray for a new filesystem b/c HFS+ is too damn old…
 
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akaralias

macrumors newbie
Jun 28, 2009
17
0
Interesting and may come true cause....

... although AMD tried the same and even outperformed Intel chips in the past, Apple does have the financial ability to overcome the aggression that Intel is going to hit the market with.

AMD didn't, but they did not fail either from my point of view.

The market would only benefit from such a move, hope the rumors are becoming true!
 
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zap2

macrumors 604
Mar 8, 2005
7,242
1
Washington D.C
... although AMD tried the same and even outperformed Intel chips in the past, Apple does have the financial ability to overcome the aggression that Intel is going to hit the market with.

Apple isn't trying beat Intel, they work together in a lot of markets.


Apple seems just fine taking the best fitting product from the best computer they design, be it AMD, Intel or ARM
 
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