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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 

4. Intel is catching up in mobile.

At the time Windows RT hit the market, ARM chips facilitated thin, light devices with great battery life and strong graphics performance—things that couldn't necessarily be said of Intel's chips. Microsoft had just been blindsided by the iPad and needed to establish a tablet presence, so a version of Windows for ARM made sense.

Today, the newest Intel chips are much more competitive with ARM offerings. At the low end, new Atom chips power budget Windows tablets and notebooks whose battery life and processing power compare well to most ARM-based Android or Chrome OS devices on the market. At the high end, Core M chips offer the thin, fanless form factors and extreme power efficiency of ARM chips while retaining x86's traditional processing strengths. ARM-based chips are still generally cheaper than Intel models but the point remains: Microsoft has fewer reasons than before to look beyond Intel chips.

Intel processors

Intel's newest processors have eliminated some of Microsoft's reasons for creating Windows RT.

5. Windows 10, ARM and the app gap could lead to more Windows tablet confusion.

As mentioned, previous ARM-powered Windows tablets failed partly due to poor marketing and customer communication. With Windows 10 set to include a family of related but different products, Microsoft will face some of the same challenges and will have to do a better job.

Windows 10 variants are expected to include a desktop-oriented version based on the recently released preview, with the tiled Start screen present but turned off by default. A slightly different version will exist for Intel-based 2-in-1 devices such as the Surface Pro, with the OS switching between desktop and Modern UIs depending on whether the keyboard is attached. Yet another version is expected to run on both smartphones and tablets and to potentially support both ARM and Intel chips. This third version presents clear communications challenges.

Where will Microsoft cut off access to desktop apps? Will all smaller tablets and smartphones be confined to Modern apps? Will larger tablets with attachable keyboards be the only tablets to retain the desktop UI? Desktop apps are fairly limited on smaller screens, but OEMs have made clear that they're more willing to make Windows 8.1 tablets than they are Win RT models. If Microsoft releases an excellent Modern version of Office and cultivates more developer interest, OEMs might be more inclined to invest in the Modern UI by the time Windows 10 rolls around. But if legacy app compatibility continues to be a pressing issue, will we see some 8-inch tablets with Intel chips and full application support, and some other 8-inch tablets with ARM chips that run only Modern apps? If so, can Microsoft expect these app-limited ARM tablets to be any more successful than the Win RT slates that preceded them?

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