When Qualcomm and Microsoft announced Arm-based Windows in 2016, users were excited about the benefits that Arm processors promised. This is Windows operating on a new processing architecture, which helps to diversify the capabilities of this operating system. In the early days, Windows supported many different CPU architectures, but by Windows 10, it was just AMD64, or x64.
Qualcomm promises exciting things like incredible battery life, built-in cellular connectivity, and instant booting. Initially there were only a few partners, but over time that number of partners has increased to quite a few brands, except Dell.
Then Apple joined the game. The company announced it would migrate its Mac line to Apple Silicon in June 2020. Since then, Apple has made a breakthrough in the PC market that Windows Arm has not been able to do. With Qualcomm being “accepted” 5 years ahead, Apple is making Windows Arm look pathetic.
Windows has actually been running on the Arm architecture for a long time. Windows Phone ran on the Arm chip and paved the way for a lot of the things we see today. Windows Phone 7 runs on the Windows CE kernel with the Microsoft Silverlight application platform and is all superseded in Windows Phone 8, which uses the Windows NT kernel. Not a single Windows Phone 7 device has been upgraded to Windows Phone 8, even though flagships like the Nokia Lumia 900 were released just a few months earlier.
Launched with Windows Phone 8 was Windows RT (and Windows 8), the first attempt to make Windows run at its best on Arm processors. At that time, Microsoft’s major partner was NVIDIA with the Tegra processor, which was found in Surface RT and Surface 2. Besides, Nokia also equipped Snapdragon 800 for Lumia 2520.
Windows RT was a huge failure, although it looked exactly like Windows 8, it could only run apps that came from the Windows Store. Even Windows 8 itself was one of the most poorly received versions of Windows in history, as the interface was completely redesigned in a way that users didn’t expect. In the end, Microsoft lost $ 900 million with the Surface RT tablet, they could not sell the machine and had to reduce the price massively.
When Windows 10 was announced in 2015, Microsoft confirmed that Windows RT devices would not support the new operating system. Instead, users will get Windows RT 8.1 Update 3, which mainly offers the return of the Start Menu and not much else; no Windows 10 kernel or Universal Windows Platform.
In December 2016 at the Snapdragon Technology Summit in New York, Qualcomm and Microsoft announced their latest attempt at Windows Arm. The main feature is the x86 emulator. Users won’t even know the difference between ARM64 and AMD64 versions of Windows 10.
By December 2017, Snapdragon Technology Summit was moved to Maui in Hawaii. This is where the first two ARM64 PCs were introduced. Those are ASUS NovaGo and HP Envy x2, Lenovo launched Miix 630 later. They use the Snapdragon 835 chipset, which is a slightly modified version of the mobile processor of the same name.
The Snapdragon 850 was announced a bit later and is based on the Snapdragon 845 chipset. Again, only a few laptops and tablets use it, such as Samsung’s Galaxy Book 2 (2018), Lenovo Yoga C630 and Huawei MateBook E Several other carriers joined later.
At Snapdragon Summit 2018, Qualcomm announced their first chipset built from the ground up for PCs, the Snapdragon 8cx. The ‘c’ stands for ‘compute’ and the ‘x’ means ‘extreme’. Devices using this chip include Lenovo Flex 5G, Samsung Galaxy Book S and Microsoft Surface Pro X (chipset has been slightly modified and renamed Microsoft SQ1).
Unfortunately, it took a long time for the Snapdragon 8cx to ship. At Snapdragon Summit in 2019, Qualcomm introduced Snapdragon 8c and 7c, while Snapdragon 8cx devices have yet to reach users. To reduce the factory time in the next version, Snapdragon 8cx Gen 2 has almost no changes.
In December of last year, Qualcomm announced the Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3, offering a more consistent upgrade. The chip promises impressive performance, but it’s too late compared to Apple’s M1. Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3 will begin shipping to OEMs in the second half of this year.
There are three main things that Qualcomm promises with Windows Arm. The first is excellent battery life. Arm chips use the big.LITTLE architecture, with powerful cores for heavy-duty tasks and energy-efficient cores for everything else. Not only does this increase usage time, but it also leads to a second promise, allowing your PC to start up as instantly as your phone.
The third promise is built-in cellular connectivity. Qualcomm chipsets have a built-in cellular modem, so mobile data will be standard for an Arm product, rather than just an expensive high-end product like for Intel laptops.
The most obvious problem, however, is that the battery life promised by Qualcomm failed to materialize. According to XDA-Developers, even with the Surface Pro X, the battery life is not too different from the Surface using Intel chips.
The built-in cellular connectivity is also not what was promised. Almost every Windows Arm laptop that ships today comes in a Wi-Fi-only version, so even in 2022 you’ll still have to use your phone to broadcast Wi-Fi to a laptop that’s promised to be wireless. bringing cellular connectivity to the standard.
Most users and tech experts rate these devices as providing a less than impressive experience. Devices are much more expensive than they offer, especially in the early days of the Snapdragon 835 and Snapdragon 850. It’s been five years and Qualcomm still hasn’t quite delivered on its promises.
Also has some pretty good equipment. Samsung Galaxy Book Go arrives at an attractive price and weighs only 1.4 kg. The Lenovo Flex 5G is the first 5G laptop to use both Sub6 and mmWave. The Samsung Galaxy Book S is also quite good, very thin and light with a fanless design.
Despite being ahead and having some compelling devices, Qualcomm and Microsoft have succumbed to Apple. Apple’s switch to its entire line of Macs to homegrown chips has made a huge impact. At this time, only two Intel Macs are still sold by the company: the Mac Pro and several configuration options of the Mac Mini.
Apple delivered an experience that Qualcomm and Microsoft couldn’t deliver. Apple products are capable of seamlessly running applications built for Intel-based PCs. Apple’s solution is Rosetta 2. The first time you install an x64 app, you’ll be prompted to install Rosetta 2, and according to XDA-Developers, users won’t notice any performance issues.
Apple launched the first 3 products with the M1 chip: MacBook Air, 13-inch MacBook Pro and Mac Mini. Performance and battery life of the products are appreciated, but that is not the most remarkable thing. Then Apple launched the 24-inch iMac with the M1 chip.
The company has used the same processor in devices from the 11-inch iPad Pro to the 24-inch desktop. This is clear evidence that Qualcomm and Microsoft have not kept up with Apple. Qualcomm isn’t aiming for an all-in-one PC, but instead narrows itself down to the ultra-thin laptop experience.
Then there’s the MacBook Pro with the M1 Pro and M1 Max chips, which have performance on par with a powerful Intel laptop but the battery life is phenomenal. If you’re going out with an Intel laptop with such power, you’ll certainly have to carry a charger, but that’s not the case with the MacBook Pro; That’s also one of Qualcomm’s big promises.
Qualcomm is no longer the one who set the standard for Arm computers, this honor belongs to Apple and no one can deny it.
However, Qualcomm is still hard at work on its own custom silicon chip, and that’s when things get really interesting. Thanks to the acquisition of CPU company Nuvia, Qualcomm was able to increase its resources. This will give Qualcomm the keys it needs to compete with Apple.
Other chip suppliers could also join the Windows Arm segment, as MediaTek is planning to do when the exclusivity agreement between Microsoft and Qualcomm expires.
But no matter what, Qualcomm needs to really try. In 2016, it was poised to hit a market dominated and built around Intel and AMD. But now, it’s Apple who sets the standard, showing what Arm chips can do.