Qualcomm, Microsoft plot ARM Snapdragon-powered Windows 10 PCs, tablets, phones

Joanna Estrada
December 11, 2016

For Microsoft, Windows 10 coming to ARM Processors will enable it to bring new experiences to its Surface customers. Microsoft hobbled Windows RT, its last stab at running Windows on low-power ARM chips, by limiting the devices to programs written using the then-new Windows RT API.

According to Intel, the two are also collaborating on Intel's Project Alloy All-in-One head-mounted display reference design, Intel Optane, Intel RealSense, Thunderbolt, and eventually removing the cable with WiGig to take the experience to the next level. They also made it clear that it will be a full version of the OS and include support for legacy Win32 software and Universal Windows apps.

Using the power of the upcoming Snapdragon 835 flagship SoC - due to hit devices in early 2017 - Microsoft has been able to run the full desktop version of Windows 10 on mobile ARM-based processors.

It is worth noting this pairing should not be confused with Windows 10 Mobile, which is the smartphone and tablet build of the OS now available on Windows Phone devices.

These gadgets will come with the Windows 10 Creators Update, the latest version of its Windows operating system. It was called Windows RT and it only ran a subset of Windows apps and Microsoft ultimately killed the project. On top of these modules, Microsoft can add modules that target specific device families (desktop, mobile, Xbox, HoloLens, etc.) that provide specialized features and shells. To this end, Intel used WinHEC 2016 to unveil the PC specifications for those VR devices, and also announced its Project Evo partnership with Microsoft. Microsoft confirmed the same in an announcement on its official blog, where it said that in future Windows 10 users will be able to experience their desktop apps on future tablets, phones, etc which are running on Qualcomm processors.

The software compatibility on the devices Microsoft is calling "cellular PCs" is brought about by using x86 emulation on ARM hardware. "This is because they lack the human, environmental and object understanding that is already built into Windows 10".

The move is exclusive to Qualcomm processors and not all ARM products.

Further coloring this story is Microsoft's poor history of both Windows on ARM and Surface computers with integrated cellular. This year's WinHEC is being held six months after Microsoft declared its intentions to bring Windows 10 to virtual reality devices, and to help the five aforementioned hardware companies develop cheap head-mounted VR displays.

As traditional PC computing becomes more mobile, Qualcomm Technologies brings the scale of the mobile ecosystem with an unparalleled pace of innovation to address consumers' growing need to be always on and always connected.

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