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Windows 10: Bye Intel, hello ARM

Posted: 14 Oct 2014     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Windows 10  tablet  Surface  Windows 

Editor's Note: In this article, Michael Endler discusses seven observations about Microsoft's strategy for ARM devices and what this will mean for customers.

Microsoft's traditionally cozy relationship with Intel at times has appeared chilly over the last few years, with the former investing in ARM processors and the latter making chips for devices that run Google's Android and Chrome OS.

But these days, hints of tension between the two companies have mostly disappeared. PC sales have stabilised, keeping Intel and Microsoft's paths tightly linked. And thanks to new classes of super-efficient Intel chips, the Windows catalogue now includes powerful, ultras-slim 2-in-1s at the high end and a variety of cheap but surprisingly capable PCs and tablets at the low end.

The reversed dynamic raises a question: What's become of Microsoft's ambitions for devices that use ARM processors?

Indeed, "Wintel's" resurgence isn't the only reason to question Microsoft's investment in ARM devices. Just last week, the company confirmed it will continue to make Surface Pro devices but declined to answer any specific questions about ARM-based models. From Windows RT's failure to a recent report that Microsoft plans to focus Surface development around Intel chips, little about Microsoft's recent ARM efforts inspires confidence. What do we know about Microsoft's strategy for ARM devices, and what it will mean for customers? Here are seven observations about Microsoft's ARM agenda.

1. Windows 10 will run on at least some ARM devices—but which ones?

Microsoft reps have abstractly confirmed that Windows has a future on ARM devices, but outside of the obvious fact that the company will have to support ARM-based smartphones, it's not clear what this means.

Why are ARM-based Windows smartphones an obvious play? A year ago, Nokia was the only company committed to Windows smartphones. But, by eliminating licence costs and relaxing hardware requirements, Microsoft recently convinced more OEMs to join in. The hardware move enabled OEMs to easily take successful Android devices and basically re-release them as Windows Phone options, a strategy HTC followed with its One (M8). Intel's mobile chips have come a long way, but ARM remains the smartphone standard. Unless Microsoft intends to eliminate one of OEMs' easiest means of producing Windows smartphones, at least some flavour of Windows 10 had better run on ARM.

 Microsoft has struggled with ARM-based tablets

Microsoft has struggled with ARM-based tablets, such as its Surface 2.

But will Microsoft support ARM beyond smartphones? Microsoft executive VP and OS head Terry Myerson confirmed last month that Windows 10 will replace both Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8.1. Does this mean that an ARM-compatible version of Windows 10 for smartphones might be used for tablets as well, somewhat like Apple uses iOS for both iPhones and iPads? That's the outcome rumours have painted for months, but where will Microsoft draw the lines?

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