Chip Wars: Can x86 and MIPS take on ARM?

ARM-based chips are currently the undisputed heavyweight champions of the smartphone and tablet markets. But could x86 architecture and RISC-powered MIPS processors eventually challenge ARM’s virtual lock on the lucrative mobile sector?

Well, ABI Research principal analyst Peter Cooney believes they can.

“Traditionally, ARM processors have provided the best power efficiency while having comparatively less processing grunt than Intel equivalents, a formula that has worked well for smartphones so far,” Cooney told TG Daily in an e-mailed statement.

“[Now], both Intel and ARM have been working hard to address their weaker areas and there will be a point in the next few years when the performance/power efficiency of these technologies will be equal. At that point the competition in the market should be immense.”

According to Cooney, x86 and MIPS cores entered the mobile playing field en masse in 2011, and are forecasted to jump to approximately 18% of the market by 2016.

However, ABI chief research officer Stuart Carlaw emphasized that any projected x86 or MIPS increase is completely contingent on a smartphone market with a healthy grow rate.

“The critical ‘if’ in these forecasts is the performance of the smartphone market,” he said.

“If it continues to grow at its recent rate, these market forecasts should be accurate, and we have no reason to believe that it won’t.”

Carlaw added that the “final” contest in the market would take place between integrated and standalone application processors.

“Standalone designs are more likely to be used in higher-end devices, while low to mid-range smartphones will tend to use integrated solutions to give faster time to market and make life easier for the OEMs.”