Windows Phone 7 began a very close relationship between popular ARM-processor company, Qualcomm, and Microsoft. For now the only processor that is available in Phone 7 is a Qualcomm processor, showing you just how close this partnership is.
Now it seems that Windows 8 is taking many cues from Phone 7, adding the new interface Metro which optimizes touchscreen technology and even ARM processors are getting support in Windows 8. Qualcomm and even some analysts believe this partnership will now give them a chance to go head-to-head against the other processor giant, Intel.
Up until now the only processors that worked with Windows were based on Intel’s x86 architecture, namely AMD and Intel (though Via is somewhat involved with a budget line of x86 as well). ARM support allows Qualcomm and other smartphone chip makers, like Nvidia and TI, to branch out into the desktop/laptop market if they so choose.
I’ve talked a bit about this in the past, and I’m of the opinion that it will be very hard to break into the PC market with ARM processors. Despite my personal opinion, however there are many analysts that seem to think that this could certainly be a game changer.
The low power consumption could mean smaller, quieter multimedia and desktop machines that would certainly appeal to some users. Additionally Qualcomm’s strong dominance in the ARM market might make consumers more willing to trust them in the desktop/laptop sector as well.
“In the tablet world, ARM owns it,” said Will Strauss, head of industry research firm Forward Concepts. “It’s an area Intel has failed at, and it’s one that is taking away from the laptop market. So it’s this multimillion-unit market that Microsoft simply can’t afford to ignore.”
This quote certainly is true, and any attempts by Intel to make an x86 processor as small and efficient as an ARM processor has been at least a little clumsy in design. Generally x86 requires fans and other elements that make x86 not as appealing to most users in the ultra-mobile arena.
Despite Qualcomm’s role in the mobile market, it just isn’t the same thing when it comes to desktop/laptops. The truth is that ARM processors don’t have backwards compatibility with traditional x86 desktop apps and only work with the new Metro interface side of the desktop.
Even if most of the biggest applications were ported to Metro, many feel this interface just isn’t as good for the desktop and PC. Using Metro for some things and then booting into Desktop Mode for others is one thing, but having ONLY Metro to work with? I don’t know how well that would be received.
Additionally, Intel isn’t just going to roll over and let Qualcomm move into its share. Intel has recently put tons of emphasis into its new Ultra-Book platform and so Qualcomm will certainly have to find a new angle in order to win over the affections of x86-platform users.
Intel has even begun to invest in technology that allows cellular-always on technology similar to Qualcomm.
Do I think that Qualcomm can develop a small niche in the desktop/laptop world? I think it is certainly possible yes, but its not really something Intel needs to worry too much about. The biggest potential that ARM does have with laptop/desktop machines could be netbooks, though.
These machines need little power and are generally geared towards casual users. Not having x86 application support wouldn’t be as large of a deal for these type of consumers and mobile ARM processor could make netbooks more efficient, and maybe even cheaper.
What do you think about Qualcomm’s future in the desktop/laptop sector? Can ARM captivate the market in this field like it has with mobile technology? Share your thoughts below!