Joe Desposito's Blog

ARM Advances into Digital Home

Semicast Research ( London, England) recently issued preliminary findings from a forthcoming report that caught my attention. “Opportunities for Embedded Processors in the Digital Home” shows that ARM Ltd. increased its position as the leading architecture for embedded processors in digital home applications in 2010, ahead of MIPS, Power Architecture and x86. The report suggests that ARM’s lead over the competition in the digital home is set to increase significantly in the medium term.


Semicast judges that ARM has been the leading embedded processing architecture in the digital home for several years now, although its research shows ARM and MIPS engaged in a ferocious battle in individual applications such as home networking gear, media players/MP3 players, digital cameras, digital TVs, set-top boxes and DVD recorders.


For now ARM has conquered the handheld games market with the two next-generation platforms, Nintendo 3DS and Sony Vita, both using ARM. In comparison, Power Architecture has achieved a dominant position in wired game consoles, with design-wins for the Sony PlayStation 3, Nintendo Wii (and forthcoming Wii U) and Microsoft Xbox 360. However Semicast forecasts Power Architecture will see limited revenue growth in other areas of the digital home, and its current dominance of game consoles is expected to be challenged by ARM in the next-generation Xbox. Semicast therefore sees revenues for Power Architecture in the digital home stalling in the medium term, following a short term boost from production of the next generation of game consoles.


Semicast Research says that historically, x86 has not had a significant presence in the digital home, with its mix of price, performance and power consumption not well suited to consumer applications. So, I guess they’re not taking into account all the x86 desktops and notebooks in the digital home.


Semicast then says that the emergence of media tablets and netbooks as a high-growth category offers an ideal platform for the x86 architecture to establish a presence in the digital home. I see it more like x86 dominating the declining netbook category, and ARM dominating the booming tablet category. When I spoke with ARM last year, they told me that they would be targeting the netbook market. I haven’t seen any myself, but there are sightings and rumors of these ARM-based netbooks all over the Internet.


Semicast also forecasts strong growth for x86 in digital TVs and set-top boxes. On current projections, Semicast is forecasting revenues for x86 in the digital home to pass those for Power Architecture around 2016.


Colin Barnden, Principal Analyst at Semicast Research commented that ARM’s future success in the digital home is forecast across most equipment types, but one of the leading areas for growth is set to be ebook readers, media tablets and netbooks. Here, ARM has achieved a significant early lead against its main architectural rivals, with design-wins in products such as the Amazon Kindle, Apple iPad/iPad2, Barnes & Noble Nook, BlackBerry Playbook, Motorola Xoom and Sony S1/S2”. Add to this group the recently released HP TouchPad, which uses an ARM-based Qualcomm dual-core processor, the APQ8060.


In many of these products, ARM’s leadership position comes from multiple design-wins across the spectrum of its silicon partners, for example in the applications processor (Freescale, Nvidia, Samsung, Texas Instruments), baseband processor (Mediatek, Qualcomm, ST-Ericsson), Bluetooth/Wi-Fi communications controller (Broadcom and Marvell) and simple M0/M3 MCU (Fujitsu, NXP, STMicroelectronics).


Broadcom and Samsung were the two leading suppliers of embedded processors to digital home applications in 2010, with IBM, Renesas Electronics and Texas Instruments completing the top five. Collectively, the top five suppliers accounted for almost half of the market.


Of course, reports like this have a hefty price tag, but if you want to take look at the preliminary findings in more depth check out the Semicast web site at


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