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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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Registers
By rs2 on 1/6/2011 6:55:39 AM , Rating: 3
quote:
And it has more integers registers, which eliminates the expensive process of renaming registers.


I'm not sure where you got that from, but it appears to be false. ARM processors have 16 general-purpose registers (which I assume is what you mean by "integers registers"). Modern (as-in "64-bit capable") x86 processors also have 16 general-purpose registers. There is no difference between the two as far as register pressure is concerned.

Also not sure where all the doom-and-gloom comes from regarding the future of x86. ARM and x86 processors serve completely different markets. You don't see people trying to build an ARM-based desktop, and having Windows support ARM isn't going to change that. Particularly given that all the software that Windows supports is not going to be compatible cross-architecture without a recompile (at a minimum). When Microsoft ported the Windows UI to ARM, did they also port the Windows SDK and the DirectX API and runtime? Because if not then x86 is going to be quite safe in the desktop realm for quite some time.




RE: Registers
By melgross on 1/6/2011 1:31:25 PM , Rating: 2
I think the danger to both AMD and Intel comes from the possibility that tablets in general, and Windows on ARM, if carried out well, will result in fewer x86 chip portable computing devices. We'll possibly begin to see notebooks with full Windows running on them after a while. A four core ARM with out of order execution and running at 1.25 GHz, with a good GPU by Imagination or some other firm would go a long way to eating up marketshare in the most popular computing category for full use machines; laptops and notebooks. If MS can provide an excellent porting environment, we'll see a lot of software soon after.

All of that depends on whether MS can really do a good job here, and that's open to question until we see the result. It can either turn out like Vista, or Win 7, that is, either a mess for years, or a success. Meanwhile, neither Apple nor Google will be standing still. Neither will Apple's hardware, or Google's OEM's.

It's going to be an interesting few years ahead.


RE: Registers
By micksh on 1/6/2011 1:45:35 PM , Rating: 2
Surely it will have DirectX and all other APIs. Take Windows CE (or, Windows Embedded Compact now) that is running on ARM. In terms of API it has pretty large subset of Win32 API used on desktop Windows. Windows CE had a version of DirectX since long time ago. They can use this and other code for Windows 8 development.


RE: Registers
By chaos386 on 1/6/2011 7:59:18 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
You don't see people trying to build an ARM-based desktop


Well...

http://www.dailytech.com/NVIDIA+to+Build+Custom+CP...
http://www.anandtech.com/show/4099/nvidias-project...

It's not impossible to move a consumer platform over to a new CPU architecture; Apple's already done it twice. From the sounds of things, Microsoft is trying to go after a new market here, anyway, so they might not even have to worry too much about backwards compatibility for apps.


RE: Registers
By encia on 1/7/2011 2:16:19 PM , Rating: 2
Acorn Archimedes desktop PCs used ARM based CPUs. Acorn RISC Machine = Advanced RISC Machine = ARM

In mid-90s, Advanced Computing Environment(ACE) group attempted to replace X86 PC standard with non-X86 CPUs e.g. MIPS, Alpha, ARM. This adventure was a failure.

MS joined ACE group btw.


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