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Will Windows 8 on ARM open new doors for Microsoft?

Posted: 19 Oct 2010     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Windows  ARM  computer 

Enabling Windows 8 to run on ARM processors would open doors for Microsoft to new kinds of low cost, low power products ranging from consumer tablets to Internet caf� systems.

Although the bits on Windows 7 haven't even cooled yet, here I am already guessing the next big thing. But there hasn't been a version of Windows with anything exceptionally exciting and new in it for years, and ARM support could be just what Microsoft needs.

Windows 8 on ARM would open doors for Microsoft to new kinds of low-cost, low-power products, ranging from consumer tablets for Office weenies to Internet caf� systems in African villages. At this point, a new market for a franchise like Windows is very timely.

It has advantages for ARM, too. The company has already been pushing beyond the smart phone with its quad-core ready A15 Eagle design that will be available in chips about the time Windows 8 ships.

ARM recently trumpeted a desktop-like SoC from China. The start-up's processor uses a 1.6GHz dual-core Cortex A9, Mali graphics block and 64-bit memory bus and supports PCIe, USB and serial ATA. All that's missing is Windows.

It would not be hard for Microsoft to run Windows on ARM. It has run its Windows CE on ARM for years, so it has intimate knowledge of the hardware.

Microsoft licensed the ARM core recently, but didn't say why. One reason could be it wanted to get intimate knowledge of what a 64bit ARM implementation would be like for Windows 8.

With ARM pushing towards desktop and even server markets, it will need to deliver a 64bit core. Again, the Windows 8 timeframe would be about right.

Of course Windows on ARM doesn't erase the advantages of the x86, ARM's archrival. Many applications and tools would still have hooks into the x86 that would give Intel, AMD and Via an advantage in some markets.

But Windows 8 on ARM is the next major step to levelling the playing field between ARM and Intel in a market where they are bound for head-to-head competition.

So, I fully expect this software will emerge from the oven in about three years.

- Rick Merritt
EE Times

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