Intel buys an ARMy?

Is Intel in trouble? Since it is the #1 semiconductor company and, shipping 22nm in Q4 this year with 14nm in 2013, it is two process generations ahead of everyone else it is hard to see why it would be. Intel, of course, continues to dominate the market for chips for notebooks, desktops and servers. But therein lies the problem. Pads are killing netbooks and nibbling at notebooks. These are not growing markets and actually are starting to gradually shrink. Instat reckons that in Q1 2011 PC volumes are down 2-3% from Q1 2010, largely due to incursion of iPads.

The growing markets are largely ARM-based: smartphones and iPad type computers. Intel’s approach to these markets has not been a success. First, after its acquisition of (part of) Digital’s semiconductor business it got StrongARM, renamed it Xscale, and invested something like a billion dollars in trying to penetrate the communications business. Eventually it disposed of that business to Marvell in a fire sale. Depending on what residual rights they retained this could turn out to have been an enormous strategic error. They didn’t just give up a ARM manufacturing license, they gave up a do-pretty-much-anything ARM architectural license.

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