Semiconductor IP News and Trends Blog
Manufacturing May Trump IP in Kontron’s ARM Offering
A brief chat with a Gartner analyst at IDF2011 provides fresh insights into the importance of Kontron’s announcement to expand beyond Intel to include ARM-based chips.
In one of last week’s blogs, I speculated about Kontron’s announcement entry into ARM architecture. Two items make this proclamation newsworthy to the processor IP community. First, Kontron is a board manufacturer that has been deeply committed to Intel’s processor road map. Second, the reasons cited for the ARM offering was to meet, “customer needs in power consumption and performance per watt.”
The morning after the ARM processor announcement by Kontron, I had the good fortune to talk with a Gartner analyst at IDF 2011. Sergis Mushell is a Principal Research Analyst at Gartner, in the Processor Technology and MPU-GPU division. He said that the key to understanding this change by Kontron lies in manufacturing, not performances issue concerning the processor IP. Here is the gist of our conversation:
JB: You said earlier that manufacturing holds the key to understanding Kontron’s expanding beyond the Intel processor space to include ARM processor cores. Please elaborate.
Mushell: You need to distinguish between the ARM of today and yesterday. Today’s ARM has quad-core devices, which means increased power consumption. So Intel is not competing against the ARM of yesterday, which had super low power, but against the multi-core (higher power consumption) ARM of today.
The other thing to remember is that processor core frequencies are creeping up, because vendors offering these cores are competing against each other (on performance). Multiple cores at higher frequencies naturally drive more power consumption, as well as generate more heat. So it is not a matter of the Intel Atom going down to the ARM of yesterday. Rather, it’s about the Atom going down to the ARM of tomorrow.
JB: But Intel’s Atom still needs to get down to one watt to be on par with today’s ARM core.
Mushell: Is that the core power you are quoting? Or it is for a number of cores? Another question is what is the core frequency? All of these things will make a difference.
The best way to approach this issue is by looking at the business, not the processors side of the business. If you enable manufacturers – e.g., Acer and Asus – of the world, then they will make products like tablets, PCs, etc. Further, they will use whatever chip works the best. The problem with ARM and others is that they do not do the complete design as does Intel.
Manufactures don’t design things. Instead, they rely on others – like Intel – to provide a detailed reference design and an ecosystem for all the parts. This way, the manufacturer doesn’t need to worry about where all the components will come from. And companies like Intel provide three sources for each and every component.
JB: While ARM has a huge IP ecosystem, Intel still has an even larger ecosystem for everything else. This might explain way Intel is trying hard to developer their own SOC IP ecosystem (see, “Intel Challenges ARM with IP and Interconnect Strategy“). Given that, why is Kontron offering the ARM architecture? Perhaps the answer lies in who will actually supply the ARM-based chip to Kontron, which returns speculation back to Intel as a possible candidate.
Our conversation was interrupted, but I’ll be following up with Mushell in the near future.