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Is the Arm version of Windows ready for its close-up?

Is the Arm version of Windows ready for its close-up?

Qualcomm

There are signs that Qualcomm’s Snapdragon

For those who haven’t been following, this would be Qualcomm’s first Arm processor for Windows PCs that does for PCs what Apple’s M-series chips did for Macs, promising both better battery life and better performance than equivalent Intel chips. This would be a change from older Snapdragon chips for PCs, which have had worse performance (or, at best, similar to) existing Intel options, barely improved battery life, and come with many issues software incompatibility.

The first benchmarks that have been released look promising for the Snapdragon Apple Silicon first and foremost.

Rumors indicate that Microsoft’s flagship Surface tablet will use Qualcomm’s Arm chips exclusively this year rather than selling the Arm and Intel versions side by side (an Intel Surface Pro 10 exists, but it’s only sold to businesses) . Microsoft has tried to make Arm Windows happen several times. But this time it’s different.

A Brief History of Arm Windows

The first public version of Windows to run on Arm processors was Windows RT, an Arm-compatible version of Windows 8 released on a handful of devices in late 2012.

Windows RT had significant limitations, including a complete inability to run traditional Windows x86 desktop applications: all applications had to come from the Microsoft Store, which was considerably more sterile than it is today. There was no x86 compatibility mode.

This limitation may be due in part to the limited and low-performance Arm hardware available at the time. Arm processors were still predominantly 32-bit, with slow CPUs and GPUs, 32 or 64 GB of slow flash storage, and only 2 GB of memory (at the time, 4 GB was generally considered sufficient for a PC, and 8 GB were spacious). Even if you had x86 app translation, the translated apps would have been horrible because the Arm hardware was already struggling to run the built-in native apps properly.

The Asus VivoTab RT, one of the few Windows RT tablets released in the Windows 8 era.
Enlarge / The Asus VivoTab RT, one of the few Windows RT tablets released in the Windows 8 era.

Andrew Cunningham

Windows RT died the death it deserved; it never worked on many devices, and those that did had completely disappeared from the market by 2015 or so. But the technical foundations of the operating system remain relevant today.

As then-Windows head Steven Sinofsky detailed, Microsoft did significant work to define a hardware abstraction layer (HAL), ACPI firmware, and base class drivers for the Arm version of Windows so that the operating system can install and operate as expected on a wide range of systems. variety of Arm hardware barely standardized in the same way as on a fully standardized x86 PC. (Compare this to Google’s Wild West approach to Android, which to date cannot install basic OS or security updates without specific intervention from chipmakers and manufacturers devices).

These were building blocks that Microsoft could reuse for Windows 10, which was first introduced on Arm devices in 2017 with support for 32-bit x86 app translation. This version of Windows-on-Arm also functioned more as a technical demonstration than the dawn of a new era, but it came close to what Windows-on-Arm needed to be to succeed: a drop-in replacement for x86 . version of Windows, where the two versions were largely indistinguishable to non-technical users.

The next big step on this path came in 2020 when Microsoft announced a preview of 64-bit Intel app translation for Arm PCs, although the final version ended up being exclusive to Windows 11 when it launched late 2021 (leaving behind, incidentally, that first wave of Windows 10 Arm PCs equipped with a Snapdragon 835 processor (another case where early adoption in this ecosystem hosed users). Developers also had easier access to Arm when Microsoft started allowing them to mix x86 and Arm code in the same application.

This brings us to where we are now: an Arm version of Windows that still has some compatibility gaps, particularly around external accessories and specialized software. But the vast majority of productivity apps and even games will now run smoothly on the Arm version of Windows, with no user or developer intervention required.

News Source : arstechnica.com
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