Microsoft is bringing Windows 10 to ARM-based devices

Khushaar Tanveer avatar. By: Khushaar Tanveer
3 minute read
Windows 10 ARM

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Qualcomm has announced they will be teaming up with Microsoft to develop Windows 10 PCs powered by its Snapdragon processors. This sets the stage for the possibility of cellular-connected, Windows 10 mobile PCs. The next generation ARM-based chips would be able to run legacy Win32 programs, adding a cherry on top.

Microsoft broke the news to the PC manufacturer partner at WinHEC in Shenzhen, China, on December 8. It was at the conference that Microsoft first demonstrated a version of Windows 10 running Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 820 processor.

This initiative could mean a lot of things. It is universally accepted that ARM processors are superior to Intel chips in a number of way, from their lesser power consumption, lower heat generation and more modern architecture. If the collaboration between the two powerful firms proves to be fruitful, then the Qualcomm and ARM chip makers could pose a viable threat to Intel’s cartel. Of course, they do lack aspects that Intel chips bring to the table, but these are just the the first steps.

What does it mean for future of ARM chips?

ARM processors will enable OEM’s to build fanless, slimmer architecture. To be clear, it does not at all affect the underlying performance of the machine but does offer a superb battery life.

Gigabit LTE, Quick Charge and Grade A Wi-Fi are only a few of the substantial features offered by the Qualcomm’s processors. That makes things a lot easier for OEM’s as it saves them the trouble of separately integrating all of them into devices. Microsoft has already named these devices “Cellular PCs.”

The ARM and Windows RT venture:

Let’s not forget Microsoft’s failed attempts at making Windows Phone/Mobile and Windows RT compatible with ARM and x86 architectures. It was then that they explicitly instructed developers to code new applications through its Universal Windows Platform. Its ability to run apps other than Universal Windows Platform applications prevented the platform from gaining a sizable position rather than pushing it forward. On another note, Windows RT only included a subset of the features that were part of Windows 8.

Before you start wondering, Windows RT was the operating system that powered the first Microsoft Surface tablet which was known as Surface RT.

It was due to some of Windows RT’s limitations that it didn’t acquire a strong consumer base. For instance, the lack of desktop applications didn’t really help. To address these limitations, Microsoft is bringing x86 emulation to ARM devices. It is all due to this technology that users will be able to run powerful desktop apps such as Adobe Photoshop or Microsoft Office. Microsoft has already demonstrated Photoshop running on devices with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor and 4GB of RAM. Needless to say, performance seems exemplary:

Thankfully, the upcoming version of Windows 10 for Qualcomm is not Windows RT. Instead, it is a Windows 10 desktop version that is compiled natively to run on the Qualcomm CPU. But that doesn’t mean that it can not run Universal Windows Platform apps.

The eSIM Technology:

With a bunch of other aspects, Microsoft has also announced support for eSIM technology on Windows 10. That lets consumers purchase and manage their Wi-Fi and cellular data from the Windows Store.

What Qualcomm has to say:

Making further claims, Qualcomm asserts that its upcoming, next generation processors will give users the “full Windows experience”. It then specifically mentioned that their chips have embedded support for both UWP apps and Win32 legacy programs through emulation.

Qualcomm also lauded their Snapdragon processors in that they offer one of the world’s most advanced mobile computing features including Gigabit LTE connectivity, advanced multimedia support, and machine learning along with fan-less designs and long battery life.

It is hardly likely that Microsoft will be able to support x86 emulation on all ARM chips at first, widely because the ARM ecosystem isn’t nearly as consistent as the x86 ecosystem is. As it is such a competitive market also, ARM wants to allow its manufacturers a little flexibility in customization of ARM-based chips.

So, when will Windows 10 for Qualcomm be available? Microsoft representatives only mention ‘next year’, but some speculation is pointing towards the fall of 2017.


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