Intel is trying to put its x86 chips into mobile devices in an effort to catch up with ARM-based chips produced by companies such as Qualcomm. On the other hand, Qualcomm says it's ready to enter the notebook market.
This looming clash between Intel and Qualcomm is expected to take center stage at the Consumer Electronics Show next week in Las Vegas.
Qualcomm Chief Executive Officer Paul Jacobs spoke to Bloomberg and unveiled his company's plans to demonstrate notebook computers based on his company's chips on Jan. 10, highlighting a push into an area dominated by Intel. Later that day, Intel CEO Paul Otellini will take the same stage to announce phones featuring his chips, renewing his company's push to get into a market that Qualcomm controls.
Until now, Intel processors failed to win orders in the mobile-phone market, mostly because they were too energy-hungry. Qualcomm and other mobile-phone chipmakers, meanwhile, haven't had much impact on Intel?s dominance of laptops because their products can't run most computer software.
But Intel's latest chips look more competitive, although it would be hard for the company to enjoy a power edge due to advantages of the ARM architecture. At CES, Intel is expected to highlight its strengths in chip manufacturing technologies (e.g. 3D FinFET) as well as its advanced production factories.
Consumers expect their laptop computers to behave the same as their phones, Qualcomm's Chandhok said. That means they turn on instantly and are always connected to the Internet. Because Qualcomm designed its chips from the ground up for that kind of use, they have an advantage, he said.
On the other hand, smartphones are becoming more like personal computers, giving an edge to Intel's technology, said Bill Calder, Intel.
Microsoft is also putting pressure on Intel. After years of working exclusively with Intel's x86 technology, Microsoft's Windows 8 operating system will also support ARM chips. Obviously, PCs shifting to ARM chips could be a disaster for Intel. But Intel's ability to support all existing software may make Windows 8 systems that use its chips more attractive, particularly for companies that need a secure environment, since existing security software may not be compatible with computers based on non-Intel chips.
Qualcomm's Chandhok said that even though there have been more development platforms for Windows 8 produced on Intel chips, his company will be providing ARM-based versions. Microsoft plans to begin selling both versions of the operating system at the same time.
Nvidia is also expanding into ARM-based processors for mobile devices. Jen-Hsun Huang, CEO of Nvidia, says it won't matter if Intel can produce more efficient chips.
"The amount of innovation around ARM has reached critical mass," Huang said. "If you're a cell-phone maker or even a car company, you would absolutely choose ARM."
In addition to announcing new contracts with phone manufacturers, Intel's Otellini plans to showcase the company's Ultrabook project during his speech.