NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Semiconductor firms like Intel (INTC) - Get Report, AMD (AMD) - Get Report, Marvell (MRVL) - Get Report and ARM Holdings (ARMH) achieved a lot this year, seeing their processors get bundled in a big mix of consumer gadgets and computers.
But for 2011, these firms face a new dawn of powering smarter, more compact mobile devices, and investors will be watching how well they adapt their products to the new space.
Read on for an update on how the four chipmakers fared this year and how they're positioned for the year ahead.
It's not enough that financially, Intel performed well this year thanks to its dominance in powering the PC market. Though the company has enjoyed strong profits and recently
in revenue for the third quarter -- besting the $9.4 billion it posted the previous year -- its stock performance for 2010 mirrors the lukewarm sentiment investors feel for the chipmaker.
Intel's stock is up roughly 3% for the year, compared to the tech-heavy Nasdaq's 17% gain.
While Intel is unlikely to see its PC position fade anytime soon -- the company's big CES announcement is expected to be its robust Sandy Bridge PC processor -- analysts say the market will shrink as smartphone and tablet offerings become more robust and start cannibalizing netbook and laptop sales.
Intel lags behind rivals ARM and
in the booming mobile device sector (together, these two firms power more than three-quarters of Android smartphones). Though Intel
, which gives it better positioning in 3G and the burgeoning 4G connectivity market, Intel has said its mobile chips won't debut until sometime next year.
It was an up-and-down year for AMD, whose shares are down nearly 16% for the year. Over the last two quarters, AMD posted losses totaling more than $160 million. However, it was able to generate much more revenue year-over-year -- $1.6 billion compared to $1.4 billion -- which helped the company prove to investors that it might have more value to offer them than some might think.
AMD President and CEO Dirk Meyer told investors during the company's latest earnings call that the firm isn't well-positioned enough to capitalize on the growing tablet market. In fact, he said that for the foreseeable future, AMD is forced to leave that space open to the competition -- AMD is taking a "wait-and-see" approach.
Meanwhile, AMD continues to provide its CPUs, like the Phenom II and Athlon line of processors, to PC vendors around the world. As with previous AMD products, they deliver serious performance opportunities, but whether or not they will be able to compete with Intel's Sandy Bridge processor remains to be seen.
Going into 2011, it's not a good thing for AMD to be so far behind in the mobile space. If the company doesn't deliver a worthwhile solution next year, AMD might find itself cornered out of the market by the competition.
Marvell, which makes ARM-based processors for mobile devices like
Research In Motion's
( RIMM) BlackBerries, enjoyed a strong year offering several processor options for a wide variety of gadgets including Blu-ray players, e-readers and some smartphones.
The company posted $959 million in revenue and a $255 million profit for its most recent quarter, besting the same period in 2009 when the company tallied a $201 million profit on $803 million of revenue.
But the company's share price is down more than 10% for the year, due in part to a
misstep with RIM
that cost Marvell the chip-making slot for RIM's new tablet, PlayBook. (
, instead, will power the yet-to-be-launched tablet.)
Heading into 2011, Marvell seems to be in a holding pattern, preferring to build a quiet foundation in the consumer electronics space that could see it enjoy immense growth in the coming years. The company recently announced its new Armada chip, a tri-core processor that supports Android, Linux, Windows Mobile and
Flash. The company has said the chip set is aimed squarely at the mobile device market, but it hasn't yet announced who will be using it.
ARM Holdings, whose share price is up about 140% for the year, could be the sector's biggest story in 2011. Based in the U.K., ARM licenses its chip designs to other semi firms and mobile device makers, including
, which, next week, will reportedly unveil a new version of its Windows OS running on ARM's technology.
Chips based on ARM's technology power the majority of Android smartphones and, according to research analyst Craig Ellis of Caris & Co., about three-quarters of the tablet market, including the iPad.
Over the past year, ARM's stock price rose from $8 a share in January to about $20 and its financial performance was outstanding. During the third quarter, the company generated $100 million in revenue and a $14.8 million profit. That figure was up considerably over the $75 million in revenue and $6.9 million in profit it tallied during the same quarter in 2009.
Tech watchers expect more of the same from ARM, which at this point stands to win as the mobile device market continues to explode in 2011.
--Written by Don Reisinger in New York.
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Don Reisinger has been writing columns and blogs about the technology and video game industries for years. His work appears in some of the tech industry�s biggest publications, as well as in the
Los Angeles Times
, where he blogs about social networking. Follow Reisinger on Twitter @donreisinger.