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ARM vs. Intel: Why chipmakers want your Chromebook's brains

Mark Hachman | Oct. 23, 2014
While a smartphone or tablet is virtually guaranteed to have an ARM chip inside, that's no longer the case for Chromebooks, which appear to be swinging in the direction of Intel processors.

Why Intel has succeeded, and ARM has slipped, isn't exactly clear. In September, however, Intel chief executive Brian Krzanich offered one reason: ubiquity. 

"One of the great things about building on an Intel architecture is you can build the same platform and it will work off almost any operating system," Krzanich said. "So you can build one platform, it can run on Windows, it can run on Chrome, it can run on Android, it can run on Tizen, it could run on any of those operating systems. We're about the only ones who can do that."

The ARM answer

Traditionally, ARM's argument has been similar. But while ARM can run most other operating systems, it can't run Windows — at least, not the traditional X86-based Windows that is powered by AMD and Intel chips. 

That doesn't mean that you should count out ARM completely, though. 

A spokesman for ARM noted that a year ago, Samsung offered the only ARM-based Chromebook in the market; today, Acer, Hewlett-Packard, and Samsung all offer ARM-based models. ARM has also shipped 64-bit microprocessors into the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 and HTC Nexus 9.

"If you look across the Intel-based Chromebooks there is not much OEMs can do to differentiate, whereas using ARM gives them more flexibility to add more memory and bump up the display resolution, which is exactly what Samsung has done," the ARM spokesman said.

With ARM processors becoming virtually synonymous with the smartphone and tablet, ARM's business isn't in any particular danger. Still, powering a Chromebook would be further validation that an ARM-powered device can compete with a traditional PC. And Intel doesn't seem to want to let that happen.

 

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