ARM: our netbooks will fly with or without Windows

PC Pro Exclusive: ARM chief Warren East explains why netbooks could become the dominant force in the PC market

Barry Collins
3 Feb 2010

ARM chief executive Warren East has claimed that netbooks could swallow 90% of the PC market, in an exclusive interview with PC Pro.

The British chip design firm, which is the biggest rival to Intel's dominant Atom processors in the netbook space, claims the low-budget laptops could transform the PC market. And East says the chip firm will succeed "with our without" Windows support for its processors.

"Although netbooks are small today – maybe 10% of the PC market at most – we believe over the next several years that could completely change around and that could be 90% of the PC market," said East. "We see those products as an area for a lot of innovation and we want that innovation to be happening around the ARM architecture."

There’s not really a huge amount of point in us knocking on Microsoft’s door

East claims ARM already has several processors inside the typical netbook, but it wants the final piece of the jigsaw - the CPU. "Let’s say you go and buy a laptop today. You’ll find the application processor is an Intel device or an AMD device. Typically you’ll also be buying two or three ARM microprocessors," East claimed.

"Chances are it’s an ARM in the Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. More often than not there’s an ARM in the hard disk drive and sometimes there’s an ARM in the integrated camera as well. Not to mention the ARM that’s in the printer that you may or may not have bought to go with it."

"Right now there’s only one microprocessor in the PC that probably isn’t ARM and that’s the applications processor. Certainly what we’re talking about over the next few years – particularly with netbooks, not with PCs – is the opportunity for those to be ARM."

No point in chasing Windows

One significant barrier to ARM CPUs in netbooks is Windows' lack of support for the company's processors. East admits it's a problem. "If we were to wake up tomorrow and find Windows support for ARM it would certainly accelerate ARM penetration in that space," he said.

"What’s holding it back is people’s love of the Microsoft operating system and that fact that it’s familiar and so on. But actually the trajectory of progress in the Linux world is very, very impressive. I think it’s only a matter of time for ARM to gain market share with or without Microsoft."

And the ARM boss claims he's not pestering Microsoft to broaden Windows' processor support. "There’s not really a huge amount of point in us knocking on Microsoft’s door," he said. "Microsoft knows us very well, it’s worked with us for the past 12 years, all its mobile products are based on ARM.

"It’s really an operational decision for Microsoft to make. I don’t think there’s any major technical barriers. Microsoft’s well aware of the technical support we can provide to them, but it is an operational challenge for them, and one that only they can work out. We can’t really help them with it."

Asked whether he felt Microsoft's long-term ally, Intel, would be applying pressure on the software giant to withhold support for ARM, East said: "Maybe they would, but Microsoft has to run Microsoft, not Intel."

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