ARM Winning the Fight to Be the Brains Inside the Digital Home

[qi:gigaom_icon_chip] ARM, (s ARMH) the company that licenses its designs to chipmakers eager for a low-power processor for cell phones and embedded devices, has taken the lead when it comes to consumer electronics in the home, according to research published today from Semicast. The analyst firm says ARM-based semiconductors have surpassed MIPS-based chips and the Power PC architecture inside embedded devices such as set-top boxes and home networking gear. But even as ARM tries to move upmarket into the netbook territory owned by Intel (s intc), the world’s largest chipmaker is moving down into the embedded market. Meanwhile, the Power PC architecture that used to be the brains inside Apple (s aapl) computers is on the wane.

Semicast said that cell phones accounted for around 60 percent of ARM-based processor revenues in 2008 and over the next five years, the firm expects that number to fall to 50 percent as ARM looks to expand its architecture outside of phones. For example, ARM recently signed a licensing deal with LG Electronics that puts one of its applications processors and one of its graphics cores inside LG digital televisions. Semicast expects ARM will continue to beat out the MIPS and Power architectures in the medium term. As for Intel and its x86 architecture, that isn’t a threat for ARM so much as it is to Power PC, which currently dominates in video game consoles. Chips using the Power PC architecture are in the Xbox, the Wii and the PlayStation 3, but if an x86 chip makes it inside the next generation of one of those consoles, then revenue from Power PC chips inside the home could fall behind those of x86 chipmakers AMD (s amd) and Intel.

As for the companies making the most money selling chips inside the home, Broadcom (s brcm) was estimated as the market leader, with IBM (s ibm), NXP, Samsung and Toshiba rounding out the rest of the top five, according to Semicast. Those vendors accounted for over 50 percent of processor revenues in the home market. Given that the number of connected devices inside the home that will require more and more processing power is in the billions, the opportunity here is much greater than the two-way battle between ARM and Intel’s low-power x86 Atom chips that’s occurring in netbooks.