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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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By Da W on 1/6/2011 1:53:58 PM , Rating: 0
You seem very sensitive about AMD having a future.

Look at Nvidia 2010 finances and it sucks. AMD overpaid for ATI, was bleeding money for its fabs and was under attack by Intel's anticompetitive actions. Look at AMD's 2011 income statement with a brand new bulldozer chip and THEN we will be talking. If they fail, so be it.

But if you look with an OBJECTIVE point of view, their bulldozer should be able to stand ground against core i7, and PCs aren't going out anytime soon. You think businesses and government agencies will do their works on iPads? no they will buy an effective, cheap desktop for 500$-1000$, a price point AMD will be competitive in.

Windows 8 will be a modular OS and the "working on ARM" part is trageted for tablets mostly. I doubt Nvidia will come with a competitive desktop ARM chip anytime soon that will rivalize against Bulldozer AND SandyBridge (or Ivy bridge by then or worst). And anymway, the ARM vs x86 debate is irrelevant, since it will all work on Windows and coded in C#! That's all that maters. The big winner here is Microsoft, and i'm gonna add to these 200 stocks i bought when their phone came out.

By DarkPhoenix on 1/7/2011 12:45:19 PM , Rating: 2
I would say you're the sensitive one about that subject, since I barely even mentioned AMD's future.

However, when talking about finances, you don't seem to know much. Intel has boat loads of cash. NVIDIA isn't exactly loaded as Intel, but has 2 billion in the bank, no debt and the Q4 2010 numbers were good, considering the problems they had in 2010, especially the Fermi delay.
2011 is looking extremely good for them, not only in the mobile graphics space, but also in the mobile gadgets with Tegra 2, that is being quite popular these days.
AMD on the other hand, still has a large debt (even if they used Intel's settlement of 1.5 billion, they still have 2-3 billion in debt) and had just a few (actually I only remember one) positive quarters in about 3 years...

Will Bulldozer change anything in this regard ? Maybe, but it really needs to beat Intel's CPUs. Otherwise it will be the same as Phenom, where AMD needed to sell quad-cores at the same price of Intel's dual cores, just to stay competitive. And that means more quarters in the red.

As for NVIDIA's CPU, it's highly irrelevant at this point, but the Microsoft announcement surely isn't a coincidence and will no doubt help the idea of a high-performance ARM CPU.

"Intel is investing heavily (think gazillions of dollars and bazillions of engineering man hours) in resources to create an Intel host controllers spec in order to speed time to market of the USB 3.0 technology." -- Intel blogger Nick Knupffer

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