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Microsoft Showcases Qualcomm ARM-Based Windows 10 PCs Coming Next Year

Microsoft this week announced that a couple of "always-connected" Windows 10 PCs have been produced by hardware partners ASUS and HP, using Qualcomm's Snapdragon ARM-based processors.

The devices were the focus of a Tuesday announcement by Terry Myerson, Microsoft's executive vice president for the Windows and Devices Group. The occasion for their debut was Qualcomm's Dec. 5 Snapdragon Technology Summit event.

Myerson noted that it has been a year since Microsoft and Qualcomm teamed up at Microsoft's WinHEC hardware development event to announce Windows 10 on Snapdragon ARM chips. Windows 10 on ARM chips promises longer battery lifespans for devices, as well as the ability to run older x86 Win32 apps (Window 7-type apps), along with "modern" Windows 10 apps.

Myerson defined an always-connected PC as being "instantly on, always connected with incredible battery life."

New Laptops
The ASUS NovaGo, described this week as "the world's first Gigabit LTE laptop," uses Qualcomm's Snapdragon ARM chip and has a battery lifespan of 30 days on standby and 22 hours with active use. The newly introduced HP Envy x2 is a Snapdragon ARM-based 4G LTE2 laptop with a battery that supports up to 20 hours of active use.

HP's announcement indicated that the HP Envy x2 will be available in the spring of 2018. ASUS' announcement didn't indicate when the NovaGo would be available. However, availability for these ARM-based devices likely will happen earliest in 2018. Microsoft suggested that timeline in its white paper, "Accelerating the Move to the Cloud with Always Connected Computing" (PDF):

"OEMs across the geographic, price and design ranges have a rich pipeline of devices that will begin to hit the shelves in early 2018, and we're grateful for the innovation of our OEM and silicon partners to help make this a reality," Microsoft's white paper stated.

The white paper, like Myerson, makes the case that LTE networks will change how organizations connect their workers. They could use public or private LTE networks to provide high-speed connections. Myerson also suggested that there will be better security for these always-connected LTE device users compared with the typical travel scenario of connecting to public Wi-Fi hotspots. He didn't elaborate on that point, though.

ARM Device Capabilities
When Microsoft described Windows 10 on ARM-based devices last year, it noted that these devices are capable of running hefty x86 Win32 applications, such as Adobe Photoshop and Microsoft Office, in addition to modern applications. In this week's announcement, Microsoft indicated that these new Snapdragon ARM-based devices can run "a new optimized version of Office 365." In response to a question, a Microsoft spokesperson described the optimized version of Office as Microsoft Store application that's specifically designed for these devices.

"We are updating the existing versions of Office available through the Microsoft Store on Windows to improve the performance of common tasks on Qualcomm Snapdragon devices," the spokesperson clarified.

Windows 10 on ARM-based devices use emulation, which lets them run 32-bit Windows applications. They can't run 64-bit Windows applications right now, but Microsoft is working on adding that capability. Here's how the spokesperson described that effort:

The emulation technology [of Windows 10 on ARM] supports x86 applications. We do not emulate 64-bit applications, the majority of which are AAA Games. Additionally, the emulation technology does not emulate applications that require kernel-mode drivers (e.g. some anti-virus applications). We are working on an ARM64 SDK that will enable developers to author applications for ARM64 and we'll have more news to share in the future.

The coming Windows 10 devices on ARM chips likely will be able to run any Windows 10 edition, but Microsoft is advocating for the use of the Windows 10 S edition.

"We expect these [Windows 10 on ARM] devices to run all versions of Windows 10, and we believe Windows 10 Pro in S mode is best suited for these devices because of simplicity, performance and security," the spokesperson indicated.

Microsoft conceives of these Windows 10 on ARM devices using LTE networks as something that will get adopted by businesses and organizations. One sign of that intention is that it's possible to domain join these devices to a corporate network.

"Enterprise customers will be able to domain join these Always Connected Windows 10 PCs so users can establish a remote and secure connection to a work domain," the spokesperson stated.

The new Qualcomm-based Windows 10 on ARM machines represent Round 2 for Microsoft in enabling Windows on ARM-based PCs. The first try was Microsoft's Surface RT machines, which Microsoft quietly discontinued after they didn't take off. Notably, those discontinued Windows RT-based machines couldn't be domain joined and they couldn't run Win32 apps, unlike the present-day ARM-based offerings.

The new Qualcomm ARM always-connected Windows 10 machines represent a new category of devices for Microsoft, noted by Scott Bekker, editor in chief at Redmond Channel Partner. He offered some perspective in this RCPmag.com blog post. At stake are the new machines' capabilities, designs and their yet-to-be-seen price points.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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