ARM is a growing server-side threat to Intel

by Steve Blum • , , , , , ,

Low profile, high potential.

2014 will be the year that specialised ARM-based chips gather momentum in the server market. That was not good news for Intel as it scrambled at CES to maintain relevance in the mobile device market. The last thing it needs – but the next thing it’s going to get – is competitive pressure on server processors, an increasingly rare example of a growth market that it dominates.

ARM maintained a relatively low profile at CES, leaving center stage to companies, like Qualcomm, that license its microprocessor architecture and make the chips that rule the smart phone and tablet space. Or, like Samsung or Huawei or ZTE, that make those devices. It did have a small stand at the Pepcom press preview event, though, showing examples of wearable products – the breakout category at the show – that it powers.

“Our customers can build optimal solutions, that’s what happening in the server space”, said Jeff Chu, an ARM marketing executive. The idea is to build chips that are specifically designed for a particular kind of application: media servers, for example. The ARM architecture is more modular and adaptable than Intel’s x86 monolith, which gives it the flexibility needed to support the development of an increasingly complex server-side ecosystem.

Chu said that AMD will be shipping samples of an ARM-based server chip in the next couple of months, with full production expected later this year. Broadcom is also working on a server-optimised processor. The two companies have different takes on how to build chips that improve performance and reduce power consumption for particular server applications, according to Chu.