Almost all of the mobile phones, except the ones being produced by Intel, use ARM based processors while desktop/server industry is dominated x86 processors.

What features does one provide over the other with regards to the domination they have in their respective sectors?

4 Answers 4


ARM concentrated on power consumption from the beginning. This has given them a huge advantage in almost anything that's battery powered.

The popularity of x86 is primarily for historic reasons -- it's been there forever, and it's been good enough that most of the market has had little reason to switch to anything else.

  • 5
    I'd also add that x86 is very backward compatible which people expect from desktops. People don't expect their mobile devices to run the same operating systems/programs as their desktops and this opens up opportunity for other processors.
    – WuHoUnited
    Commented Mar 23, 2012 at 3:10

The biggest point here is that, ARM's power consumption is greatly desirable for the portable devices. Almost 75% the mobile devices run ARM processor.

There's an excellent article about the comparison of both platforms. http://vanshardware.com/2010/08/mirror-the-coming-war-arm-versus-x86/

Also ARM's business model is slightly different from AMD or Intel. They license their technology than manufacturing their own chips. There's a strong point here is that, people really don't want to buy microprocessor alone and they will be embedded in a device or form factor. Now Intel is trying to compete in this space by bringing in less power consuming chips. Also the PC sales are declining more than ever before.


There is a great article on the ecosystems and design philosophies behind these two architectures. I think it was in wired but basically arm is RISC based. Thats reduced instruction set. Back in the early 90s apple switched to the PowerPC chip based on the belief RISC chips would soon deliver higher efficiencies.

Meanwhile intel was adding instruction sets to its core. Remember the MMX suffix in mid to late 90s?

Well, Intels size and creativity (and some big ass cpu fans!) held divergence in performance/efficiency at bay for much longer than expected but mobile devices benefit greatly from the reduced power consumption and no one wants a CPU fan on their iPhone...

The irony is, apple switched to x86 at the end of the 90s for OSx.

  • 1
    Clarification: x86 are now RISCs with a very efficient CISC (x86 rich instruction set) layer support on top of that. And, well, people is actually buying amd64 (aka x64) machines today (who wants less than 4 GB of RAM?) and thinks they are x86 (there's a compatibility layer for that) Everything is very hybrid and fluid.
    – ZJR
    Commented Mar 23, 2012 at 4:25
  • Apple choices in the PPC affair where a mixture of opportunism and nerdism. The CEO was a chip nerd out of national semiconductors. Apple used Motorola 68k chips. Sun, also, was using them. (SUN SPARCS) Motorola embarked in a joint venture with IBM, and promised a 68k hardware compatibility layer. Apple hopped in. The marketing reflected the CEO vision, a vision that didn't really bother too much about software. Most of the claims where amplified BS. (as I was a mac kid, I used to believe them all) Most people anyway ignored the BS, looked at the Mhz counter, and just stayed with PCs.
    – ZJR
    Commented Mar 23, 2012 at 4:41
  • ARM is a whole different beast, at its inception it wasn't even meant to be a CPU, it was meant to be raw horsepower to be thrown at a very insufficient main processor that couldn't be upgraded for backward compatibility reasons: the BBC Micro. Think of a north bridge, or a GPU... that evolved into a CPU. that.
    – ZJR
    Commented Mar 23, 2012 at 4:55
  • Apple happened to swing by the ARM, during it's evolution path, anyway. searching for a low consumption cpu for a handheld device: they influenced the design and used ARM6, in the Apple Newton, that was 1994.
    – ZJR
    Commented Mar 23, 2012 at 5:12
  • MMX instructions are perfectly RISC, and the similar SIMD instructions are available in many "classic" RISC architectures, including ARM (NEON).
    – SK-logic
    Commented Mar 23, 2012 at 11:12

ARM is a Micro - Controller designer (In General) and makes few micro - processors to for low end laptops with not a very high capability as that of Intel, whereas speaking of x86, it requires several other components such as RAM, Motherboard, etc. to function upon.

ARM inputs within itself the data signals which are derived from the battery of the Mobile Device and functions.

x86 on the other hand needs comparatively heavy power supply to power up the motherboard.

Besides when talking about x86, we mean only a Micro - Processor and not a Micro - Controller.

The difference lies within their functioning.

A Micro - Processor is only an accumulator and generator, i.e., it accumulates signals in binary and processes them. The motherboard it is embedded in channels the signals to various devices and they work accordingly. A ram is also necessary for quick functioning of the Micro - Processor commands or even beneficial to store in the data for a temporary period of time which can be POPPED or PUSHED by the Microprocessor.

Speaking of a Micro - Controller, it generally has an inbuilt RAM, 16 - 32 pins (even 48 or more). These pins do some or the other functioning of your mobile device. A Micro - Controller Pin can be programmed using C or Assembly to light up the screen, Turn on the Led, etc.

Now the main point of difference is that the power consumption of the x86 is high. But in recent days the Intel Technology have started making tablets which power a partial part of x86 and process just as a computer would do making data management, gaming, etc. amazingly fast.

Hope that helps Sir :)

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