Intel and ARM have been circling each other for a couple of years now, eagerly eyeing each other s respective markets as areas for growing their own businesses.
This year promises to be when the two companies begin to compete more directly against each other, when Intel can prove whether it can make an x86 chip power efficient enough to entice manufacturers to build Intel-based smartphones and tablets that users will want to buy. Conversely, 2012 also will be the year that ARM and its manufacturing partners such as Qualcomm, Samsung, Nvidia, Texas Instruments and Marvell begin pushing their chips up the stack and into such devices as notebooks and low-power servers, currently the domain of Intel and, to a lesser extent, Advanced Micro Devices.
And in the middle of all this will be Microsoft, which is expected sometime in 2012 to release Windows 8, the first version of the operating to support not only the x86 platforms from Intel and AMD, but also system-on-a-chip architectures like ARM s.
There have been bold predictions and statements from the various vendors, and much speculation from others throughout the industry, over the past months about how all this could play out: whether Intel can drive down the power consumption in its chips enough to become a player in the booming mobile device space, for example, or whether ARM and its manufacturers can enhance the performance of their chips to challenge Intel in notebooks, if ultrabooks will fare well, or ARM chips lack of support for legacy applications will be an insurmountable hurdle.
Until now, that has just been speculation. No one can really say how this will unravel until each side starts competing more directly with the other, and that won t really start to happen until this year, according to Gartner analyst Sergis Mushell.
"No player has created a situation where I can say, 'This is where it's going,'" Mushell told eWEEK in a recent interview. "It's very dynamic."