When Arm Holding began building its business, it never imagined that it would be overshadowed by a company that had not yet created or designed anything truly significant in the realm of CPUs. As you may have guessed, we are talking about Apple. Its SoCs have not only put Intel in a difficult position, but Arm, as a chip designer, is facing tremendous challenges, having been surpassed by Qualcomm as well. What can the company do? The answer lies in Arm Blackhawk, which promises to bring major advancements.
We will skip the discussion of ISA history and the distinction between Arm Holding (company) and Arm as a licensing entity (ISA), as we need to talk about the present and the near future, specifically 2024, and the timeline for Blackhawk’s unveiling.
Arm and a market playing a dangerous game
No one could have predicted that the creator of the ISA, which grants compatibility and licensing for CPU development, would find itself in a precarious position by 2023. Apple entered the sector with the same focus and ISA, and quickly surpassed everyone with its Bionic chips, now renamed Pro.
Even before Apple’s arrival, Qualcomm had already overtaken Arm Holdings as a chip designer. Now, unable to compete with AMD and Intel’s x86 CPUs, Arm is in a critical situation, especially as its income from ISA licensing pales in comparison to its earnings as a chip manufacturer.
With other server-oriented companies like Amazon with its Graviton chip and various others entering the fray, will Arm Holdings become just a simple licensing company for its Arm ISA? It seems unlikely, as this year is set to show that Arm still has potential and remains a strong player behind Intel and AMD in the processor market.
Arm Blackhawk: The promise of returning to the top of the design game with its own ISA
Rumored to arrive in late 2024, Arm Blackhawk is already showing some impressive features. It is said to be a SoC based on next-generation Cortex-X (perhaps Cortex-X5?) for high-end smartphones and lightweight laptops.
The CEO of Arm Holdings, Rene Haas, shared his thoughts on Blackhawk, claiming that it will close the performance gap between Arm-designed processors and custom Arm implementations. In other words, Haas is saying that Blackhawk will not only reduce the difference but also put Arm back in the fight.
Considering the current enormous gap between Arm, Qualcomm, and Apple, this suggests that Arm has a revolutionary approach that’s never been seen before. But the most critical question is, why now? The answer lies in two letters: AI.
Artificial Intelligence is poised to change everything, as powerful algorithms can replace smartphones in the blink of an eye just by using applications from platforms like Google Play Store or Apple App Store. It means that a low-end processor with good AI capabilities can not only match current smartphones but even surpass them.
It is indeed an all-or-nothing situation for Arm Holdings, as the company must seize the opportunity presented by AI. While Google is currently at the forefront, Qualcomm, Samsung, and Microsoft are following closely behind. Apple is in a better position due to its control over hardware, design, and software, but it lags in AI. However, 2024 is expected to be a significant year for Apple and AI.
Therefore, Arm Blackhawk must not only close the distance, as Haas stated, but it also needs to make a huge leap in IPC and total core count.
Meanwhile, the threat of RISC-V looms in 2024 and beyond, particularly in 2025, for Arm Blackhawk. Consequently, Blackhawk aims to enter the battle for CPUs and AI, pushing the smartphone market to evolve quickly and maintain its position as the user’s quintessential device.
With a highly anticipated end to 2024, Arm Blackhawk may be finished by the end of the year, with rumors pointing towards a CES 2025 or even an MWC unveiling to allow Samsung to present its offerings first before putting Blackhawk at the center of attention. Will Arm Holdings be able to accomplish this feat?
Arm Blackhawk aims to challenge and potentially dethrone Apple and Qualcomm’s dominance in the mobile processor market by 2024.