Industry analyst Canalys is predicting that ARM chips will snag 30 percent of the PC market by 2026. (opens in new tab) It also predicts that half of cloud server market, currently dominated by x86 CPUs, (opens in new tab) will also fall to ARM processors in the same time frame. But what could that all mean for gaming PCs?
Steve Brazier, president and CEO of Canalys, reckons it all adds up to an "extraordinary industry-changing event that simply has not been taken seriously enough."
Depending on how you define a PC, ARM chips are already found in a sizeable chunk of the market—nearly all Apple Macs now use ARM-based CPUs. (opens in new tab) And Apple has a surprisingly high 13.5 percent share of the PC market. ARM chips are also found in a wide range of cheapo Chromebooks.
Other analysts are somewhat more conservative when it comes to ARM's overall market share in PCs. But another analyst outfit, Mercury Research, still thinks ARM's share of PC processors doubled from seven percent in mid 2021 to just over 13 today. That's a rapid increase by any measure.
Of course, you wouldn't want a Mac or Chromebook as your primary gaming rig. But what Apple's M1 and M2 chips (opens in new tab) certainly have done is prove that ARM can compete with traditional x86 CPUs for raw performance, something that was never previously true.
Meanwhile, Qualcomm is making big claims for its own new custom-designed Oryon ARM cores, due out next year. (opens in new tab) They're built specifically for Windows machines and the aim for Qualcomm is to be competitive with Apple's M1 and M2 chips.
If Qualcomm achieves that, it will by default be competitive in pure performance terms with Intel and AMD x86 chips. The question then becomes one of software support. Porting games—and other critical software like graphics drivers—over to ARM from x86 would be a major effort.
So, while a big chunk of the PC market could well be running on ARM within a few years, we think it will take much, much longer for gaming PCs to make the jump—if indeed that ever happens. ARM-powered gaming PCs are one of those much mooted new technologies that's always just over the horizon. Long predicted, but seemingly never actually getting much closer.