Again, the technology reporting staff at the New York Times has produced an excellent article that gets to the heart of the changes in the semiconductor industry over the past few years, in the form of an article on England-based ARM Holdings.
Don't know about ARM? They license designs for semiconductors that are used in mobile devices like cell phones. More ARM chips are deployed each year (about four billion, according to the article) than the hundreds of millions of familiar processors made by Intel and AMD for use in desktops, laptops, and servers.
And where is the nexus with energy efficiency? ARM chips are carefully designed for optimum energy efficiency, because most of the devices they are used in are mobile, relying on batteries. So, in an era where outright performance has ceded the forefront to energy efficient performance, ARM chips may be poised to "leak" into markets where full-blown processors currently rule.
This is the leading quote for me: "ARM executives agree that the future is with the billions of coming things — cars, refrigerators, TVs, clothes, buildings — that will have full-blown chips or at least Web-ready sensors inside them. In many cases, they say, these things will need the lowest-power chips possible because they will be out in the world and away from a plug. Energy has replaced horsepower as the prime concern, and it is here, ARM executives said, that the company’s skills will really shine."
You might also think that ARM chips will compete with Intel and AMD if they end up in servers and networking equipment, but both ARM and Intel downplay any conflict, citing the explosive growth in web-enabled devices. In other words, perhaps some new crossover in some end-use categories (both ways - as Intel goes after mobile devices too), but in the context of a vastly expanding market.
From where I sit, competition based on energy efficient performance can be nothing but a benefit as IT further permeates our environment.