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With the Arrival of Mobile Dual-core Chips, Wintel Needs to Worry

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snapdragondevices.jpgThe twin assault of ever-so-powerful mobile chips such as the new dual-core Snapdragon from Qualcomm and Google’s Android OS along with the looming specter of tablets (and slow shift away from PCs) mean the decades-old Wintel (Intel+Microsoft) duopoly is facing its worst crisis yet.

One of the reasons is that mobile chip makers are starting to churn out chips that are arguably as powerful as some low-end computer chips, which will give today’s smartphones and a growing number of tablets a steroid-like boost. Qualcomm (s QCOM), one of the largest mobile chip makers, today announced its first dual-CPU chipsets with cores running at clock speeds of up to 1.5 GHz. This would be the third generation of Qualcomm’s Snapdragon products. While the first generation was running at 1 GHz, the second-generation chipsets had up to 1.3 GHz and multimedia extensions. The newest line-up will have dual CPU cores running enhanced cores at speeds of 1.2 GHz and 1.5 GHz.

The San Diego-based chip maker is well known for its Snapdragon line of mobile chipsets, which now power devices such as HTC Incredible and Google’s Nexus One phone. Snapdragon chipsets are also being targeted at smartbooks (low-power netbooks that don’t use Windows OS) and tablets. Qualcomm says nearly 140 devices are using Snapdragon chipsets, including Acer’s Liquid and neoTouch smartphones, Dell’s Streak 5-inch Android tablet, Huawei’s S7 tablet and Lenovo’s LePhone smartphone.

These new chips can handle HSPA+ speeds and include a GPU that has 3D/2D acceleration engines for Open GLES 2.0 and Open VG 1.1 acceleration, 1080p video encode/decode, a dedicated low-power audio engine, integrated low-power GPS and support for 24-bit WXGA 1280×800 resolution displays. Now those are capabilities you’d normally associate with a low-cost laptop. In other words, these chips are not only going to give tablets (hopefully Android-powered) a big boost, they are going to make our superphones even more nimble and nifty.

A few weeks ago I argued that ARM-based chips were going to be a big problem for Intel, which till recently has ruled the chip world with impunity because of its domination of the PC industry. Qualcomm’s new chips are only adding fuel to that fire. Intel, which recently introduced dual-core Atom processors, faces the inevitable: industry choices in a low-margin, high-volume business, something which is alien to its corporate DNA.

At Computex in Taipei, Nvidia CEO Jen-Hsun Huang said that while a lot of people are developing tablets with Windows, he believes that Android is going to run away with the tablet and smartbook opportunities. And he’s betting many will use his Tegra 2 chips.

Windows is too big and it’s too full featured for smartbooks and tablets. “The good news is that we finally have an operating system to unite behind. Android is an operating system that has gained a tremendous amount of momentum all over the world. Andy Rubin and his team [at Google] know exactly where the industry needs to go. Android started out as a phone but it’s not lost on them that the tablet is going to be very important and that the Android operating system has to evolve, and be enhanced in certain capabilities, in order to be a good tablet operating system.

I certainly agree as I’ve argued for Google to throw its considerable weight behind Android and forget about Chrome OS. And just as Intel needs to worry about these low-cost, increasingly powerful dual-core mobile chipsets, Microsoft (s MSFT) needs to take Huang’s comments very seriously. With tablets expected to be priced at budget prices, it would be hard for tablet makers to work with Microsoft’s model, which involves paying for an operating system. On the flip side, you have Google, happy to share a portion of its revenues derived from search-based advertising.

Well, let’s just sit back and enjoy what comes next!

Related GigaOM Pro Research: For Phones, the Future is Multiple Cores

17 Responses to “With the Arrival of Mobile Dual-core Chips, Wintel Needs to Worry”

  1. ARM Processor are fast becoming the industry standard, I believe ARM Processor will soon become the number one choice for many hardware and software companies, such as Dell, IBM, Apple and forgot me mention the new agreement hammered out between ARM Holding and Microsoft to license ARM design. This will un-doughty end the WinTel monopoly currently holds by Intel and Microsoft for nearly two decade.

  2. Eddie

    @Brian wrote:

    As I say, the smartphone is the computer.

    I’d argue that Sun Microsystems had it right in the 1990s with their then slogan, “The Network Is the Computer”!

  3. Why would Wintel need to worry? They are not one of the bigger players in this space. And this space will not necessarily render the Wintel space obsolete, any time soon.

    From a technical perspective, the article makes sense. But look at it also from other perspectives. Will you stop using PCs and switch entirely to mobiles, tablets and other small form-factor devices? Not likely. ARM has been doing great business during the days of (not so smart) mobile phones. And it will now have great business in the smart phone, netbook, tablet world as well. But PCs and laptops will continue to be on Wintel (whether we like it or not). I do agree that Intel better recognize Arm and NVidia (and not only AMD) as their competitor. And we see that happening. Intel will work on better Atoms – not only to further their lead in the netbook space, but also try to conquer neighboring spaces such as the (Google)TV, while partnering MeeGo like initiatives to gain a foothold in the mobile space. So, the race is on, full steam. I wouldn’t pick a loser yet.

    • Jacob Varghese


      What you’re not seeing is that as ARM chips get more powerful, more people will be using devices powered by these “mobile” chips for desktop-like tasks ie iPad.

      We know Linux can run on ARM chips now. I would expect to see Mac OS on an ARM within three years. Apple will not allow themselves to remain dependent on a single manufacturer (Intel) for all their chips.

      • i am not so sure apple wants to evolve mac OS like that. they may rather extend the capabilities of iphone OS and eventually have a version that works on laptop like machines with mouse/keyboard support but the same locked down app store platform so they gain the control levels they now have on ipod, iphone, ipad.

      • Jacob

        iPad is a version of Mac OS and it runs on an ARM processor. Will the desktop version run on an ARM processor someday — never say never, but if Steve Jobs believes that desktop is going the way of mainframe — into the niche — then should they care?

      • ari-free

        In order to be a credible replacement to wintel, the OS, whether iOS or Android, needs to have the same kind of apps that we have for the PC. Not just cute puzzle games or finger paint apps but real apps such as Photoshop, Office, etc

  4. Hello Om,

    the link to Qualcomms press release doesn’t work anymore and Google doesn’t have a cached version. Do you know why that is happening?

    Fortunately I found copies on PR Newswire, Yahoo and other websites. But nowhere it says again that nearly 140 devices are using Snapdragon chipsets.

    Where does this number come from? I am courious. :)

  5. PXLated

    “Andy Rubin and his team [at Google] know exactly where the industry needs to go.”

    Doesn’t everyone now that Steve Jobs showed them the way :-)