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Microsoft seems to be getting fed up with Intel's inability to deliver notebook hardware.

It's offical! An "upcoming version" of Windows will support ARM, a rival architecture to Intel's x86.

Qualcomm, NVIDIA, and Texas Instruments were the key ARM CPU makers who received a nod in Microsoft's presentation.

Microsoft's future hardware showcase included three ARM designs and only one Intel Atom-based design -- perhaps a signal of the changing of the guard.
Microsoft makes ARM support official; Intel surely is regretting parting with its ARM unit

Is this the siren song for the x86 architecture and its great bastion, Intel?  It's hard to say for sure, but Microsoft's official announcement that it was supporting a more efficient rival architecture -- ARM -- certainly was met with little joy in Santa Clara.

At the show Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer showed off a series of development systems running a "next generation version of Windows", which supported ARM.  Microsoft layered Windows 7's graphical user interface on top of new OS to show just how smoothly an ARM powered Windows system could run.

In total Microsoft showed off three different ARM development systems, with a system-on-a-chip design from Qualcomm (SnapDragon), Texas Instruments (OMAP), and NVIDIA (Tegra 2).  Mr. Ballmer did not officially announce when we might expect to see these Windows ARM systems, but it might be sooner than you think.

Microsoft has grown increasingly impatient with long-time partner Intel, who manufacturers somewhere between 80 to 90 percent of the world's computer CPUs.  Intel was being badly beaten in the fight for smartphone and tablet dominance -- or more aptly it never showed up, because it knew it was a fight that it couldn't win.

Microsoft had already long since gone with ARM processors in the ultra-power dependent smartphone industry.  But in the tablet sector it sat by and watched in pain as Apple and Google unloaded ARM based designs by the millions.  There were no Windows 7 tablets because Intel was unable to provide it hardware.

Unwilling to see its hopes anchored to what may be a sinking ship, Microsoft made the tough decision to jump onboard the ARM train, a serious vote of no-confidence for x86.  The message seemed clear -- Intel's promises of Atom-based Windows 7 tablets were welcome, but Microsoft sure wasn't waiting around for their release.

As ARM suppliers gains momentum they are hungrily eyeing the netbook, notebook, and PC markets.  Already we're seeing dual-core ARM CPUs show up in smartphones, and there's talk of eight-core ARM CPUs clocked as high as 2 GHz being delivered within a generation or two.  So is Intel's CPU (and to a lesser extent those of AMD) destined for a slow ride into the sunset, replaced by NVIDIA, Qualcomm, Texas Instruments, and Samsung chips? 

It's harder to say.  ARM's great hope is that it can parlay its sizable lead in power efficiency over x86 into market dominance.  ARM features a reduced-instruction set, versus Intel's cluttered instruction catalog.  And it has more integers registers, which eliminates the expensive process of renaming registers.  The net result of both of these architectural differences is that ARM can perform the same computation using less power.

And yet Intel could still pull out a victory.  As circuits have shrunk, leakage of current from the capacitors inside transistors has become a major issue.  In today's generation of ARM and x86 CPUs, leakage can account for as much as 40 percent of the power consumption of a chip.  As leakage becomes more important, process technologies may become more important, while subtle architectural advantages become more trivial.

Thus if Intel can hold on, it may stand a shot, thanks to its tireless advances in the field of process technology, which include "high-K dielectrics" -- special capacitor materials that combat leakage.  

On the other hand, developing processes is an expensive business, and if ARM begins a successful campaign into the personal computing market, it may starve Intel of the capital it needs to survive.

One thing is for sure -- for now consumers have compelling cause to buy ARM OS tablets, netbooks, and notebooks, a cause Microsoft has recognized and addressed.  Intel can only hope to weather the storm.

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Incredible, really
By bug77 on 1/6/2011 4:34:42 AM , Rating: -1
So this puts Windows how many years behind Linux? I talking strictly about ARM support here.

RE: Incredible, really
By rs2 on 1/6/2011 6:58:57 AM , Rating: 5
I'm sorry, I couldn't hear your Linux distro running on ARM over my Fallout 3 and Starcraft 2. You were making a point about one platform being better than the other because it can do something that the other one can't?

RE: Incredible, really
By bug77 on 1/6/11, Rating: -1
RE: Incredible, really
By Hieyeck on 1/6/2011 9:13:16 AM , Rating: 2
We're all nerds here, but damn: how much of one are you to be COMPLETELY wrapped up in your own little world and miss the entire point.

RE: Incredible, really
By bug77 on 1/6/2011 9:16:28 AM , Rating: 1
And what point is that? Other than Windows picking up another feature that was available for more than a decade on other platforms.

RE: Incredible, really
By Ammohunt on 1/6/2011 2:59:41 PM , Rating: 1
Um Windows runs on Itanium currently and in the past ran on Alpha and Power PC this is nothing new to them.

RE: Incredible, really
By themaster08 on 1/6/2011 4:04:18 PM , Rating: 2
Windows CE anyone?

RE: Incredible, really
By Drexial on 1/6/2011 11:23:37 AM , Rating: 2
Your Starcraft 2 and Fallout 3 aren’t in the realm of what ARM is all about. Besides that, there are plenty of games on both iOS and Android systems, neither of which are Windows systems. ARM isn’t about the desktop, it’s about the mobile community which is currently the largest computer market opportunity. Both Linux community and ARM saw this opportunity, and until recently MS released half hearted poor releases that showed they clearly didn’t take this market seriously until they saw what Apple and Android did to it. Then they finally recognized what they were missing out on and released Phone 7.

RE: Incredible, really
By Taft12 on 1/6/2011 11:03:10 AM , Rating: 2
I was working for a company that ran embedded Linux on an ARM chip in 2000, so we're talking > 10 years!

RE: Incredible, really
By bug77 on 1/6/2011 11:19:17 AM , Rating: 1
Apparently that counts for nothing, since you couldn't play Starcraft 2...

RE: Incredible, really
By melgross on 1/6/2011 1:19:45 PM , Rating: 2
It counts for nothing, because how many people had devices that used it? It was more likely an industrial use, or a commercial one. The discussion here is about consumer and business handhelds. Show where there is an interest for straight Linux devices.

It wasn't that long ago, when the first netbooks were released with Linux to save money, and allow them to sell more cheaply. It was considered the year that Linux finally became popular in consumer computing. But what happened? People returned them in droves. They didn't want Linux. Netbooks only became a popular computing category after Win XP Starter became the default OS. I'm a long way from being a Windows fanboy, but I recognize that Windows will always be more popular than Linux by several hundred percent, as will be Apple's OS X.

Now, both Android and iOS have pretty much wrapped up the phone and tablet categories. WP7 will likely sell to a smaller but significant crowd, RIM will hang about for some time, and Symbian will be around for a while longer, but Linux phones, never popular, but with a steady marketshare, are quickly fading.

It may be unfortunate, but there's really no place in the popular world of computing and communications for Linux devices, people simply don't want them.

RE: Incredible, really
By Taft12 on 1/6/2011 1:55:12 PM , Rating: 4
The discussion here is about consumer and business handhelds. Show where there is an interest for straight Linux devices... there's really no place in the popular world of computing and communications for Linux devices, people simply don't want them.

Let me tell you about a mobile OS called Android...

RE: Incredible, really
By bug77 on 1/6/2011 5:21:06 PM , Rating: 2
The discussion here is about consumer and business handhelds. Show where there is an interest for straight Linux devices.

Do a Google search on MeeGo.

RE: Incredible, really
By jono256 on 1/6/2011 11:36:43 AM , Rating: 2

Windows NT4.0 ran on ARM, for a time.

RE: Incredible, really
By bitterman0 on 1/6/2011 1:02:17 PM , Rating: 2
The blog poster in the linked article pulled past Windows NT 4.0 ARM support out of thin air. Windows NT 4.0 did run on non-x86 architectures, however. Such as: Alpha, MIPS and PPC.

RE: Incredible, really
By jono256 on 1/6/2011 1:33:33 PM , Rating: 2
Well some research indicates you are right.
Humph... liars on my internets?

RE: Incredible, really
By micksh on 1/6/2011 2:06:22 PM , Rating: 2
Yes. And Windows 7 can run on Itanium. ARM is just another architecture, not a big deal.
Bill Gates and Paul Allen probably could take Windows CE ARM source code and port Windows 7 to ARM during the flight from Boston to Albuquerque.

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