Microsoft and Qualcomm on Wednesday announced that Windows 10 will get support for ARM chipsets, specifically, Qualcomm's Snapdragon SoCs. The first of these devices should arrive "as early as next year", the two companies revealed. This will enable hardware manufacturers to create portable devices like laptops, tablets, and even smartphones with support for desktop Windows apps (and games). The two companies made the announcement at Microsoft's WinHEC conference in Shenzen, China, however, details are a bit scarce.
Terry Myerson, Executive Vice President of the Windows and Devices Group at Microsoft, said that the Qualcomm partnership will enable users to experience Windows on a "truly mobile, power efficient, always-connected cellular PC."
Unlike Microsoft's now discontinued Windows RT platform, which didn't feature any desktop apps, the new Windows 10 for Qualcomm's ARM platform will run both desktop x86 Win32 apps as well as Universal Windows apps.
The support for desktop x86 Win32 apps will be provided in the form of a native emulator within Windows 10, Myerson revealed to The Verge. Regular MSI and EXE packages will work, but since everything is being emulated on a software level, app performance will not be as good as on x86 chips made by Intel and AMD.
Myerson also revealed that the first Qualcomm ARM chip to support Windows 10 will be the flagship Snapdragon 835 - which seems reasonable as a lot of hardware performance will be required to provide capable emulation. Notably however, it appears that things can indeed run on even lower specifications than next year's flagship Snapdragon SoC. The above video shows Photoshop and other apps running a machine powered by a Snapdragon 820 SoC and 4GB of RAM.
On the software side, with the promised support for the vast majority of legacy Win32 applications on the ARM platform, it could appear that Microsoft is shifting focus from its Universal Windows apps. Myerson dispelled the notion however, saying that developers would find it easier to offer features such as Windows Hello, touch and pen support with Universal Windows apps.
At the same time, Myerson also made it clear that this announcement is not a signal that it's losing faith in Intel or AMD's capacity to provide the efficiency and always-connected qualities of Qualcomm's offerings. Myerson insists that the Microsoft-Intel partnership is still going strong. "We're working closer with Intel than we ever have before. The collaboration is better than ever before. It's just the case where Qualcomm does have these chips with integrated connectivity and better idle power performance which enables new devices to get built," he told The Verge.
"The first PCs running Windows 10 based on Snapdragon processors are expected to be available as early as next year," Qualcomm separately said. The statement would imply that complete Windows 10 support for Qualcomm ARM devices such as smartphones could take a little longer to arrive. That does indeed appear to be the case, with Myerson confirming to The Verge that the initial focus would be on laptops, however, the company is envisioning a vast ecosystem of Windows 10 ARM devices. "We're thinking about platform that supports small screens, large screens, devices with no screens at all, head-mounted displays, and so what can these device makers build will really be up to them."