Arm your PCs for the Future

The Arm processor is usually mentioned in one breath along with PDAs and smartphones. The first recognizable product which used an Arm processor was the Apple Newton PDA. Arm microprocessors power more than 90 percent of all smartphones that are made and they are used in more than 98 percent of all devices that have some form of embedded microprocessor controller. Arm chips are the most widely used microprocessors manufactured today. They are found in all types of devices ranging from iPods,to digital cameras, music players and other forms of consumer electroncs. Major electronic manufacturers use Arm and they include power brands such as Alcatel, Digital Equipment Corporation, Intel, LG, Samsung, Sharp and Yamaha.

Arm processors are currently used in PCs but not in a major way like as a CPU but more of a controller for peripheral devices like hard drives and routers.

With Arm processors dominating the smartphone and embedded device market, it was not surprising news when Sharp announced a new netbook model powered by the RISC processor. The product is set for release in Japan on September 25. Some market analysts questioned this move noting that you need to have a Windows powered netbook in order to successfully penetrate the highly competitive personal computer market. The newly released Windows 7, already ported and is able to run smoothly on netbook computers, has never been compiled for Arm chips. Still Sharp released the new PC-ZI netbook to fill the market gap for mobile products that lie between laptop PCs and smartphones. The Ubuntu Linux powered computer features a fast boot time of three seconds which is great for the new generation of computer users who totally live off the internet. Despite the Arm processor being underpowered compared to the Intel Atom, netbooks running on the Arm chip were specifically designed to run lightweight applications suitable for accessing the internet.

A more realistic use for Arm processors in a Windows world is to act as a co-processor where it’s fast boot-up time really comes in handy. This is how Dell utilizes the processor in its new Latitude Z netbook computer. The Arm chip adds smartphone like capabilities to the computer such that when there is a need to access email, contact information, update a personal web page or just browse the web, the computer can be used in a limited, smartphone mode using the Arm processor without having to fully boot-up Windows. When the netbook is run in this limited mode, battery life is extended significantly so that in-between charging times could be as long as ten hours.

As a way of convincing OEMs that the Arm is quite capable of running bigger applications compared to a typical smartphone app, the chip manufacturer demonstrated this capability by releasing faster chips running at 2GHz speeds. The Sharp PC-Z1, aside from performance close to traditional PCs, does seem to be able to handle more demanding applications like support for 3D graphics and playback of high-definition video.

The key factor for the survival of a non Intel or AMD powered netbook is software that ordinary people could actually use. With its present status now, the survival of Arm powered netbooks hinges on a bigger acceptance of Linux and the migration of desktop-bound applications into the cloud. Otherwise, the Arm powered computer has the looks of a killer app. It has great battery life and incredibly fast boot-up at 3 seconds. Its hardware requirement is modest and it benefits strongly from recent advances in storage technology like solid state hard drives and large capacity (16 gig) SD cards.

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