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Intel May Still Use ARM Technology In Its Processors

Intel acquired StrongARM from Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) back in 1997 as the semiconductor giant looked to replace its own line of RISC processors and later renamed it XScale.

Marvell Technology Group acquired Xscale from Intel in 2006 as Intel refocused its efforts on x86. Only a few months later, Intel launched its first generation Mobile Internet Device platform, codenamed McCaslin.

Clearly, getting rid of Xscale was Intel's equivalent of burning bridges to make it impossible to change its plans, allowing it to focus entirely on x86. ARM told us: "What technology Intel has licensed is confidential apart from ARM11 MPCore and ARM946 which Intel has disclosed."

The ARM11 MPcore is one of the more popular recent ARM cores and has been used in the likes of the HTC Wildfire, the iPhone 3G, the iPod Touch, the Amazon Kindle, the Nintendo 3DS and the Nokia N800 tablet. We haven't been able to track down where in its portfolio Intel used either the ARM11 MPCore or the ARM946.

Back in September 2010, Electronics Weekly (opens in new tab) said that Intel would have to seek ARM licences for its mobile chips after it acquired the mobile phone chip business of Infineon Technologies.

Buying the company means that Intel will have to get the rights to the ARM926EJ-S, ARM7TDMI-S and ARM1176 processor IP that Infineon Technologies used in its baseband chips.

As proven by the acquisition (opens in new tab) and subsequent dismantling of the DEC Alpha IP by Intel in 2001, the semiconductor giant has no qualms about integrating competing technologies with its own portfolio.

Intel has only its pride to lose should it decide to become an ARM licensee; intimately knowing the enemy has always been the best strategy and it would serve Intel well to learn a few tricks from the Cortex A15 for example.

The problem though is that Intel's adoption of ARM will be seen by the wider community as a stamp of approval and a "white flag" waving session. Expect Intel's share to drop a lot if this happens.

Désiré has been musing and writing about technology during a career spanning four decades. He dabbled in website building and web hosting when DHTML and frames were en vogue and started writing about the impact of technology on society just before the start of the Y2K hysteria at the turn of the last millennium. Following an eight-year stint at where he discovered the joys of global tech-fests, Désiré now heads up TechRadar Pro. Previously he was a freelance technology journalist at Incisive Media, Breakthrough Publishing and Vnunet, and Business Magazine. He also launched and hosted the first Tech Radio Show on Radio Plus.