Cover Story: The Mobile Technology Revolution

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Aside from smartphone makers, perhaps no market has benefited more from the mobility boom than the microprocessor market. The demand for small yet high-powered chips that can comfortably fit into ever-shrinking devices has exploded, and chip makers have been more than happy to provide them.

Now manufacturers are racing to develop mobile processors that are more energy efficient and produce less heat than traditional desktop and notebook processors -- without sacrificing performance. They are developing smaller, thinner form factors such as tablets and smartphones, which need to be able to run longer without recharging and stay cool without enormous fans and heatsinks. And while it wasn’t that long ago that multicore processors first made their way into laptops, dual-core chips are becoming common on smartphones (in fact, both Nvidia and Qualcomm are readying quad-core processors for phones).

The explosive growth in mobile devices has created a dramatic shift in the processor market, too. ARM Holdings has emerged as a major force with its mobile chip architectures, which have become so widespread that Microsoft said it would develop a future version of Windows to run on ARM technology. Meanwhile Nvidia, traditionally a GPU powerhouse, has shifted its attention from graphics cards to mobile processors for tablets and smartphones.

As the netbook market has cooled off, Intel has revamped its Atom platform into a tablet-friendly processor and in the spring unveiled its Atom-based architecture, code-named Oak Trail, for tablets. And AMD recently released its eagerly anticipated Fusion A-Series APUs for high-performance notebooks. The race to develop the most powerful yet cool and energy-efficient chips has altered the landscape, and the proliferation of mobile devices could be the biggest trend to influence the microprocessor industry since the introduction of 64-bit computing.

—Rob Wright

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