Will ARM processors be competitive?

I just ran across this blurb about an ARM-processor based netbook and it got me thinking.

I’ve been skeptical of ARM-based netbooks. While lauded for their low power consumption and versatility, because they’re mostly a PDA/cell phone/router type of CPU, I have trouble envisioning an ARM netbook as being very comparable in performance to one running, say, an Intel Atom.

I know, I know… netbooks being used for web browsing, email, and light application utilization shouldn’t have a problem with a much lower-performance CPU, right?

But with consumers tending to be confused about netbook performance — whether running Windows or Linux — I tend to think that unless someone knows what they’re getting into with a netbook, the ARM processor will lead to lots of returned hardware with the most common complaint being “it’s too slow”, regardless of what OS is on it.

But wait, maybe this is a good niche

However… there’s always a however, right? Microsoft has no plans to port Windows 7 to the ARM architecture, which means that the OS of choice will be Linux. From what I’ve read, Ubuntu runs just fine on ARM-based netbooks (though I’d have to play around with one before I’d be willing to shell out money for one), and I think one factor that might be one to watch is Google Chrome OS, which will run on ARM processors as well.

With Microsoft uninterested, and the Linux world and Google well-adapted to this hardware, and the attractive price tag and battery life of ARM-based netbooks, will this cause people to give this architecture a second look?

I know I’ve given the concept a little more thought… a while back I more or less dismissed ARM processors as a viable netbook option, simply because of the lack of processing power, but the price point and the possibility of Linux performing well on the ARM platform makes it awfully attractive to someone looking for a cheap, lightweight portable for basic web tasks.

My speculation is that with the ARM platform beginning to take off in the netbook market (as far as vendors’ offerings are concerned), we’ll see a lot more of them sold in the next 2-3 years.

A result of this might be Microsoft scrambling for an ARM port of its next flavor of Windows. We’ll know if ARM netbooks are succeeding at all in this low-price niche by Microsoft’s actions, won’t we?

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