Microsoft announced on Wednesday at the International Consumer Electronics Show that the next version of Windows would run on Arm processors. Some chip makers and PC vendors at CES this week are leaning toward using the OS on mobile devices, but companies such as Nvidia are building hopes that porting Windows to Arm will finally give them an opportunity in the PC space.
Most of the world’s PCs run on Windows, which works only with x86 chipsets from Intel, Advanced Micro Devices and Via. With Windows for Arm, users will have an alternative to move away from x86 to Arm-based computers.
Arm is used in most of the world’s smartphones and tablets, and when Windows becomes available for the platform, Arm can think of going upstream into PCs and servers, said Jack Gold, principal analyst at J. Gold Associates.
But at a practical level, it’s likely that the Arm-based Windows won’t be seen any time soon, as it’s a major effort to port the OS, Gold said.
“It is likely that we will see a subset of Windows hitting Arm before there is a full version. So, it’s likely to be targeted at tablets and such,” Gold said.
Microsoft said Windows on Arm would initially work on Arm-based chips from Nvidia, Qualcomm and Texas Instruments, which mostly go into smartphones and tablets. Just as Microsoft announced Windows for Arm on Wednesday at CES, Nvidia announced its first CPUs for PCs and servers, code-named Denver, which are based on the Arm architecture.
Nvidia’s chief scientist, Bill Dally wrote in an e-mail that the Wintel domination gave users no choice on operating systems or chip architectures, and that Microsoft’s announcement will help to free PCs, workstations and servers from the “hegemony and inefficiency” of the x86 architecture.
Intel cannot turn its back on competition, so Nvidia can come and play in the PC market with its Denver CPUs, said Mooly Eden, vice president and general manager of the PC Client Group at Intel.
“At the end of the day, it has to do a lot with the microprocessor. If you look at the performance of an Arm system and you look at the performance of an Intel system, I believe there is a huge difference,” Eden said.
Intel’s Sandy Bridge chips are able to carry out data-intensive tasks, for example, and questions about Arm’s capabilities to handle such workloads have yet to be answered, Eden said.
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