ARM Holdings leads at Consumer Electronics Show 2011

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By Calder Phillips-Grafflin

The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) was a win for chip designer ARM Holdings for several reasons: graphics manufacturer NVIDIA announced a new ARM-based processor serial built for high-performance applications and Microsoft announced that the next version of the Windows operating system will natively support the ARM architecture and the System-on-a-Chip (SoC) fabrication used by most ARM devices.

While most of you know NVIDIA for its graphics cards (and many of you probably have one in your computer), NVIDIA is also a producer of ARM processors, producing the ‘Tegra’ series used in a variety of phones, cars and music players. NVIDIA’s new ‘Project Denver’ is aimed at bringing the ARM architecture to desktop, server and possibly even high-performance-computing applications.

The extreme power efficiency of ARM designs is ideal for high-density web servers which currently are inefficiently run on standard x86-64 servers. ARM has historically been limited to low-power mobile devices and embedded applications, so the support of a major chip designer like NVIDIA will be crucial for ARM to move upwards.

ARM and SoC support for Windows marks the first new architecture supported by Windows in almost a decade, and is the only architecture supported by Windows that is not derived from Intel’s x86 or IA-64. Reliance on x86-derived processors has traditionally meant that Windows devices consumed more power, produced more heat and had shorter battery life than their ARM competitors, which is a problem as Microsoft tries to move into the Tablet/Slate market.

As tech commentators have suggested, this move may kill the 32-bit x86 architecture for good, leaving the computer market split between portable 32-bit ARM devices and high performance 64-bit x86-64 servers and workstations. For better or worse, your ‘laptop’ of the future will likely have ‘ARM Inside.’

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