IDC predicts success for ARM in desktop PCs

A report from market watcher IDC predicts big things for British chip design giant ARM in the near future, with the company expected to account for over 13 per cent of the PC market by 2015.

In the company's latest Worldwide PC Microprocessor Vendor Shares report, a carefully researched document for which IDC charges a whopping $2,000, it has declared that it has included non-x86 architectures in its figures for the first time - and makes a startling prediction as to ARM's future success.

By 2015, IDC claims, processors based on ARM architecture will account for over 13 per cent of the PC market - that's desktops, laptops, and netbooks. With ARM currently accounting for a tiny fraction of a per cent in these markets, that's a major show of support from IDC.

While ARM got its start in the world of personal computing as the chip behind Acorn's popular Archimedes series of PCs, its day on the desktop was over when rival CISC architectures such as current leader x86 leapfrogged the low-power RISC design in performance.

Rather than giving up, ARM concentrated its efforts on embedded and mobile markets, where outright performance is less important than power efficiency - and worked its way up to become the biggest chip design house in the world, accounting for the overwhelming majority of smartphone and tablet processors.

As Intel is attempting to assault ARM's stronghold, however, so ARM is looking wistfully back at the desktop and server markets - adding features to its Cortex-A15 'Eagle' processor which make it far more suited to such uses, including support for greater than 4GB of RAM and in-built virtualisation extensions.

While IDC's prediction isn't a sure thing, for the company to suggest that ARM could account for 13 per cent of the market within the next four years will come as a surprise to Intel - and a vindication for Microsoft's decision to risk its relationship with the American chip giant by introducing support for the ARM architecture into the next version of its desktop Windows operating system.

With Intel fresh from the official unveiling of its tri-gate transistor technology, which it claims will help reduce the power draw of its future processors by more than half, IDC's report is likely to put the cat among the pigeons - and suggests that the market for energy efficient desktops and laptops is going to get extremely interesting over the next few years.