ARM is going after Intel with new chip roadmap through 2020

Historically, ARM-designed processors have dominated the smartphone market, but the company is increasingly turning its attention to tackling the PC space currently dominated by Intel. That began this year with the release of the first Always Connected PCs powered by Qualcomm's Snapdragon 835, which is far from matching current Intel chips on the market in terms of raw performance. But ARM isn't sitting idly by, and today revealed its CPU roadmap through 2020, outlining its expected performance increases for the consumer PC space.

The first taste of the company's plans came in June, when it revealed its next-generation Cortex-A76 CPU design, with the bold promise that it would match laptop levels of performance currently offered by Intel's Core i5-7300U on single-threaded benchmarks. But going forward, ARM says it expects to see significant performance gains through 2020 with upcoming designs, currently codenamed "Deimos" and "Hercules."

Deimos will be built using a 7nm process, and is expected to deliver greater than a 15 percent increase in compute performance. Meanwhile, Hercules will be built on 7nm and 5nm nodes, with a similar trajectory for compute performance improvements. Impressively, the Hercules CPU built on the 5nm process is also expected to improve power and area efficiency by 10 percent, ARM says.

ARM roadmap 2020

"The CPU roadmap Arm has laid out coupled with Qualcomm's heterogenous approach to computing across our various IP block and integrated connectivity, will allow for new advancements in the always-on, always-connected PC experience offered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon Mobile Compute Platform," said Alex Katouzian, senior vice president and general manager, mobile, Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. "Our mission continues to bring the best of the mobile world to the PC, with great battery life, sleek innovative form factors, and Windows 10 for on-the-go productivity."

A lengthy wait

Crucially, we'll have to wait until ARM partners get their hands on these designs and build their own chips before we start seeing them pop up in actual devices. ARM doesn't manufacture its own chips, instead licensing its designs to partners like Qualcomm and Samsung. Once partners have received the designs, they then manufacturer chips with their own sets of customizations. For example, the Snapdragon platform is built off of ARM designs, but with special customizations implemented by Qualcomm. Manufacturers then take Qualcomm's chips and build their systems around them.

Given this lengthy process, expect it to take a while before we start seeing Deimos and Hercules-based chips popping up in machines from mainstream manufacturers like HP and Dell. Still, in speaking with PCWorld, ARM's head of ecosystem marketing Ian Smythe confirmed that partners will start manufacturing chips built on the A76 architecture starting this year, so we should start seeing Always Connected PCs with laptop levels of performance appearing on the market not too long after.

Having held its position in the smartphone market, ARM is clearly looking to make a splash with laptops next. And while Windows 10 on ARM is still in its nascent stages, it will be exciting to see how things shake out over the coming years as performance continues to ratchet up. One thing still holding things back, however, is the requirement for ARM-based PCs to emulate apps that aren't built to natively run on the ARM CPUs, which naturally comes with a slight performance hit. However, if Microsoft and Qualcomm can convince developers to start building native ARM64 apps, the emulation hurdle could increasingly become less of an issue.

Dan Thorp-Lancaster

Dan Thorp-Lancaster is the former Editor-in-Chief of Windows Central. He began working with Windows Central, Android Central, and iMore as a news writer in 2014 and is obsessed with tech of all sorts. You can follow Dan on Twitter @DthorpL and Instagram @heyitsdtl

  • I say buy their stock now. I have a feeling they may be worth more in the future!
  • Why can't Qualcomm and Intel collaborate to start building a series of a single die CPUs housing both cores? That way Intel core(s) kicks in only during intense Win32 operations like photoshop, ACAD, etc., and the rest of the times ARM would function for long battery life and AC function....
  • Because Intel does not want to share the desktop PC pie.
  • But, it is a win win situation....
  • Temporarily maybe... but if the chips became popular, it would drastically increase the percentage of ARM chips out there, giving developers much more reason to develop native ARM code, and reducing the need for the Intel side. You can see where this is going...
  • Intel wants to be Kodak, not realizing sun has set on Intel years ago... Providing plenty of opportunities to take over years ago for Amd and ARM..
  • And you know what Intel wants how?
  • Intel still thinks they are king but not for long. Very soon they will be limited to just servers (Xeon-based) and low end (Pentium-based); they will eventually lose everything with the middle ground namely the Core i3, i5, i7 and M.
  • If that'd be the case then Qualcomm should collaborate with AMD instead...
  • Thats pointless, AMD currently only offers the outdated x86 architecture in their Ryzen line of SoCs. So AMD sits in the same boat as Intel.
  • Weren't they supposed to have already made a dent. I hear the Snapdragon 850 is garbage. I say we still have a 3 to 5 year wait. I bet the next Surface Go will still have an Intel Chip.
  • Snapdragon 850 is still pretty much a Mobile based chip but with minor changes. The ones that ARM are talking about are much more PC orientated
  • SD1000 is supposed to be designed for desktop PC.
  • Ar this rate, it may have a superior AMD APU.
  • "I hear the Snapdragon 850 is garbage." Oh, and where did you hear this from? No one has really used the chip in real life yet making conclusion about its performance idiotically premature. I get some of you are Intel fans but let's stick to facts and what we know, not what we want to believe.
  • The Snapdragon 850 is basically the Snapdragon 845, with a few minor adjustments to cater to the different environment, but it is effectively the same chip.
  • Since no one has an actual device with an 850 it is still just idle speculation. The "garbage" comments are most likely from the usual pundits who have decided on the fate of Windows on ARM months after it was originally announced.
  • Snapdragon 850 running WinOnARM protptyp was made available at Computex 2018, check out YouTube from different people with hands-on
  • AMD will overtake Intel and their Skylake IPC with Zen 2. So ARM is not aiming high enough.
  • AMD will overtake Intel. Hahahahahahhah. Not likely. They already tried once and crashed and burned. More likely is that they will put pressure on Intel to step up their game like the last time around. Which is still a good thing for all of us.
  • I think this statement is right behind "death of windows" and "year of Linux" in comment thread appearances.
  • Hm why does ARM compare with a intel CPU from 2016 instead of an actual one?
  • Not to unrealistic given the markets that ARM is currently working towards. ARM doesn't expect to take the i7 and threadrippers down... But the battery life and connectivity can overcome small performance deficiencies
  • 5 and 7 nm chips oh my! How low can we go? 5 nm processor 10% improvement in power and area efficiency....compared to...? Can/will intell/AMD make sub 10 nm chips?