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ARM rising, AMD falling, Intel steady, says report

May 21, 2013 — by Eric Brown 1,337 views

AMD has taken the brunt of the slowdown of x86 PCs and the rise of ARM-based mobile devices, according to IC Insights, which estimates the chipmaker fell 21 percent to fourth place in 2012 global microprocessor sales. Intel dropped 1 percent in the rankings while Samsung’s and Apple’s Samsung-built processors combined for the greatest growth, with their ARM processor sales rising 78 percent, says the research firm.

Microprocessor unit (MPU) sales slowed 2 percent in 2012, yet the $56.5 billion MPU market in 2012 represented 22 percent of total IC sales, making it the largest category, according to the IC Insights 2013 McClean Report. A 10 percent increase in MPU sales is forecast in 2013 to $62.0 billion, and between 2012 and 2017, MPU sales should grow 12 percent to $97.7 billion, projects the research firm. System-on-chip (SOC) processors in cellphones accounted for 22 percent of MPU sales in 2012 compared to 14 percent in 2010, while tablet SOCs represented 4 percent versus 1 percent in 2010.

IC Insights 2012 global MPU sales data
(click image to enlarge)


Intel is still the clear leader in MPU sales, representing 65.3 percent of the global sales, and all other contenders rank below 10 percent. Intel’s 1 percent year-to-year decline is clearly a wake-up call, but it was good news compared to the 21 percent drop experienced by longtime x86 rival Advanced Micro Devices (AMD). AMD now has a fourth-place, 6.4 percent share, in part to the fact that this year IC Insights broadened its MPU definition to include SOCs used in smartphones and touchscreen tablet PCs. Previously, these SOCs had been included in a separate logic/MPR category.


Any way you cut it, however, AMD is suffering far more than Intel from the decline of the desktop and notebook market and the concurrent rise of ARM-based mobile SOCs. AMD has been a distant second-place finisher since the 1990s, says IC Insights.

Second place now goes to Qualcomm, which has prospered on the strength of its Android-targeted, ARM Snapdragon processors, growing 28 percent to a 9.4 percent share. The big winner was Samsung, which grew 78 percent to a third-place 8.2 percent share. In addition to supplying its own industry leading line-up of Android smartphones and tablets with its ARM-based Exynos processors, Samsung is the sole foundry source for Apple’s ARM SOCs. Since these processors represent 83 percent of Samsung’s sales, and Apple custom-designs the SOCs, Apple could arguably share Samsung’s third place finish.

The rest of the pack all fall under 2 percent apiece. Of these, the fastest growing was Nvidia (29 percent rate), which like Qualcomm and Samsung focuses on consumer smartphones and tablets. Its Tegra processors continue to keep pace with Qualcomm and Samsung on the high end, with models like its quad-core Cortex-A9 Tegra 4i.

Nvidia is followed in growth rate by two similarly fabless vendors: Broadcom (17 percent) and MediaTek (16 percent). Each sells to the mobile market, but has a broader customer base in consumer electronics. Baseband expert Broadcom has branched out to offering Cortex-A9 StrataGX SOCs for Linux networking equipment, as well as the ARM11 processor found in the hot-selling Raspberry Pi, among many other offerings. MediaTek, which has targeted its ARM chips at consumer electronics and low-end Android mobile devices, recently unveiled a dual-core Cortex-A7 MT6572 SOC aimed at affordable smartphones.

Texas Instruments (TI) grew at a healthy 11 percent, with its balanced portfolio of mobile consumer electronics and general embedded customers buying its Sitara and DaVinci processors. In November, TI announced it was pulling out of the cut-throat mobile market to double down on general embedded consumer electronics and industrial customers.

TI’s rival embedded manufacturer Freescale, whose ARM i.MX processors are big in e-readers and consumer electronics, dropped 12 percent, most likely due to its fading PowerPC architecture portfolio. Judging from recent design wins among computer-on-module (COM) vendors that have adopted its i.MX6 ARM Cortex-A9 processors, Freescale’s ARM products appear to be in better shape.

Aside from AMD, the biggest loser was ST-Ericsson, which dropped 18 percent. This joint venture between STMicroelectronics and Ericsson is dissolving in the third quarter, although ST continues to sell ARM processors like its set-top targeted Orly SOC.

ARM/x86 battle heats up

With the primary exception of the more embedded-oriented manufacturers like TI and Freescale, most of these ARM vendors have only recently begun to compete directly with Intel and AMD. Instead, as PCs decline and tablets and smartphones surge, the competition has primarily been among form-factors rather than architectures.

This is beginning to change, however, especially with Intel, which has seeded its Core processors in Microsoft Surface tablets. Almost a dozen Android smartphones now run Intel “Medfield” SOCs, and Intel recently released a more competitive Clover Trail+ SOC line for smartphones and tablets. An even more power-stingy, 22nm Silvermont architecture due in SOCs by year’s end is aimed at the same mobile categories.

AMD recently announced a more power-efficient line of embedded G-Series SOCs, but is sticking with the general embedded and consumer electronics markets. AMD is also prepping its first ARM processors, due in 2014, but they’re aimed at servers.

While Intel charges into smartphones and tablets, mobile ARM SOCs are beginning to expand into the embedded market. SOCs like the Snapdragon and Tegra have joined the more established TI Sitara and Freescale i.MX SOCs in embedded COMs in products such as the Tegra 3-based Toradex Apalis T30. There have been few ARM-based PCs and notebooks, but Samsung has launched a popular Exynos-powered Chrome OS notebook.

As other platforms like PowerPC and MIPs decline, the x86 vs. ARM competition becomes more direct than ever. Let the games begin!

Further info

The IC Insights 2013 McClean Report starts at $3,390 for a yearly subscription. More information may be found at the IC Insights MPU announcement page.

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