The short answer is that while Arm is making inroads into areas traditionally dominated by x64 like servers and laptops, complete replacement is unlikely in the near future. x64 retains key advantages in performance and software ecosystem that will be difficult for Arm to overcome completely. However, Arm does have a chance to take significant market share in certain segments like mobile and embedded devices.
The Appeal of Arm
Arm processors have several inherent advantages over x64 that make them appealing across many computing segments:
- Energy efficiency – Arm’s RISC architecture and focus on power optimization makes it more energy efficient than x64.
- Customization – The licensing model allows companies to customize Arm cores for their specific needs.
- Cost – Arm-based chips tend to be cheaper than x64 chips with comparable performance.
These factors make Arm a good fit for mobile and embedded devices where energy usage, cost, and form factor are critical. Arm’s energy efficiency is also useful in data centers where reducing power consumption lowers costs and environmental impact.
Growth of Arm in Servers
While servers have traditionally relied on x64 processors from Intel and AMD, Arm-based server chips are now emerging as an alternative. Amazon’s Graviton chip is being used in AWS data centers and Ampere’s Altra processors powered by Arm are also gaining traction. Though still a small part of the overall server chip market, Arm’s share is projected to grow to around 15-20% by 2025.
Arm servers promise better performance per watt compared to x64. This can reduce data center operating costs, especially electricity usage. The ability to customize Arm cores is also an advantage for hyper scalers like Amazon and cloud providers. Additionally, Arm helps reduce dependency on Intel and AMD for data center operators.
Adoption in Laptops
In laptops, Arm-based processors are now being used by Apple, Microsoft, Samsung and others. Apple’s M1 chip offers desktop-class performance at low power consumption which enables excellent battery life. Windows on Arm laptops like Microsoft’s Surface Pro X also showcase Arm’s power efficiency.
However, Arm laptops face app compatibility challenges currently since most Windows applications are made for x64. Apple avoids this by requiring developers to compile apps specifically for its Arm-based chips. Emulation can help bridge the gap, but results in reduced performance.
Performance and Software Disadvantages
Despite its advantages, Arm still lags behind in some areas compared to x64:
- Computing performance – Top-end x64 chips are faster for intensive workloads like gaming, creative work etc. Arm has a performance gap at the higher end.
- Software ecosystem – Most consumer and enterprise software is still compiled for x64, giving it an ecosystem advantage.
- Market footprint – Intel and AMD’s x64 processors dominate laptops, desktops and servers with a huge installed base.
While mobile-first software and web apps minimize compatibility issues, native app support remains an issue holding back mainstream Arm adoption. Performance is also a concern, though benchmarks show Arm rapidly improving and closing the gap with each generation.
The Path Forward
Here are a few trends that will shape Arm’s competitiveness against x64 going forward:
- Performance improvements – Arm’s new Armv9 architecture and transistor technology will boost performance while retaining power efficiency. 5nm and 3nm chips will also close the gap.
- Hardware and software optimization – Google, Microsoft, Apple and Amazon are optimizing their software stacks for Arm. Hardware and software co-design will maximize efficiency.
- Cloud computing shift – The shift towards cloud-based apps and web services mitigates native software compatibility issues for Arm.
- Edge computing growth – Arm’s efficiency gives it an edge in edge computing applications like 5G base stations and IoT.
Arm seems poised to expand into more mainstream computing segments thanks to rapid improvements. However, completely displacing x64 will be difficult given Intel and AMD’s advantages and decades long head start. A more likely outcome is Arm capturing specific segments like entry-level laptops, hyperscale data centers, and embedded applications rather than wholesale replacement of x64.