Why x86 won’t survive
x86 is a micro-architecture created by Intel that has been around since 1978. It powers most laptops, and more than likely powers the one you’re using right now. It’s considered powerful, effective, and reliable… until a few months ago.
A short history of leaks and exploits found in the x86 micro-architecture found in 2018 alone:
- SMT/Hyper threading found to be a security threat.
Seems like a small amount, right? No. These 3 flaws are some of the most major ones found in recent history that effect almost all laptop, desktop and server cores. While fixes have been implemented for the first two, the major drawback is performance hits of up to 15%. Soon after Spectre and Meltdown were fixed, SMT/Hyper Threading has been shown to make Speculative Execution Flaws on both Intel and AMD CPUs’ worse. x86, with it’s old and cluttered instruction set, is starting to show it’s age and it’s inability to do what it once could.
This is where ARM comes in. ARM, founded in 1990, is a newer and more lightweight “alternative” to desktop processors, usually used in mobile phones. Most smartphones today use an ARM based processor — such as Qualcomm’s Snapdragon series, Kirin and Apple’s custom 7nm A series processors. These are lightweight, powerful, and extremely efficient. These processors ARE better than some high end gaming desktops from a few years ago, but there is one major drawback to them — which is why they’re never used in laptops.
Just about every application has been developed solely for x86, with no room for ARM in mind. However, that’s beginning to change. Google is helping Qualcomm and Microsoft to bring their browser to ARM powered Windows devices. It’s a slow start, but this marks the beginning of the end of x86.
Google has seen the benefits of ARM, so has Apple and Microsoft. If they began working on making everything ARM compatible, many major developers (such as Adobe) will follow suit and release their own software for this architecture. As more compatibility is added, more users will switch to ARM because of speed, reliability, security and price. More people will leave x86 CPUs with their glaring vulnerabilities, and replace them with ARM powered devices.
Of course this won’t happen in a year or even two, but it will eventually happen. It will be the end of x86, and we’re probably better off without it.