ARM chief not impressed with Intel phone chips

LAS VEGAS Thu Jan 12, 2012 10:44am EST

LAS VEGAS (Reuters) - The head of British chip designer Arm Holdings plc has shrugged off the latest attempt by Intel Corp to muscle its way into the expanding market for low-power processors used in smartphones and tablets, which ARM dominates.

"It's inevitable Intel will get a few smartphone design wins -- we regard Intel as a serious competitor," said ARM CEO Warren East in an interview at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. "Are they ever going to be the leaders in power efficiency? No, of course not. But they have a lot more to offer."

East rated Intel's latest efforts as "good enough", but not truly competitive with ARM's designs.

"They (Intel) have taken some designs that were never meant for mobile phones and they've literally wrenched those designs and put them into a power-performance space which is roughly good enough for mobile phones," he said.

Intel announced its long-expected entrance into the smartphone and tablet chip market earlier at CES, unveiling plans for Motorola Mobility and Lenovo phones running Google's Android system on Intel's new 'Medfield' chip.

East, whose company licenses its designs to 275 chip makers and hardware and software firms, and controls the vast majority of the mobile market, said ARM was not standing still in the face of Intel's charge.

He said the company's new Cortex A7 design had the same performance as chips in smartphones of only a few years ago, but at 20 percent of the power consumption.

"People want to do more things with their phones, but battery size remains constant," said East. "It's like having a car with a fixed-size fuel tank and you want to drive 100 more miles. You've got to make the engine more efficient. That's what we do for a living."

East said he was excited about seeing Microsoft Corp running its new Windows 8 operating system on tablets using ARM chip designs -- a significant shift in strategy from Intel's most valuable long-term ally -- but said he could wait to make sure Microsoft gets it right.

"We've waited a long time for this to happen. Another six months, another 12 months doesn't matter," said East. "I'd much rather wait however long it takes to get a quality experience than compromise."

Microsoft announced its plans to make Windows 8 ARM-compatible at last year's CES, but has not publicly stated a release date for the new system.

Industry-watchers are expecting a flurry of ARM-based, Windows 8-compatible tablets in the second half of this year, and East thinks the software giant can make an impact on the mobile computing market, where it has lagged Apple Inc and Google in recent years.

"Google's Android is flavor of the month, flavor of the year, and we certainly want to be part of the Google success," said East. "But there is a space for Microsoft, and we very much want to be a part of that success too."

(Reporting By Bill Rigby; editing by Carol Bishopric)

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