The CEO of chip designer Arm has shrugged off suggestions that sales of the Arm-powered Microsoft Surface tablets will suffer because they won’t run legacy Windows apps.
Microsoft plans to ship two versions of the tablet: one powered by an Arm chip that will not run software designed for Windows 7 or earlier, and the second powered by Intel x86 chips which will be compatible with legacy apps.
There are some indications that those looking to purchase the Surface are more tempted by the the Intel-powered platform, partly thanks to its ability to run existing Windows software.
However Warren East, CEO of the UK-based chip designer, told TechRepublic that the Surface’s strength is in being a great tablet, not it’s ability to run old Windows software.
“If you want to use those legacy applications you have to use an x86, but Surface is about looking forward,” he said on Friday.
East’s confidence in the Arm version of Surface could be well founded: a lack of compatibility with Windows software hasn’t stopped the iPad from becoming the world’s best-selling tablet.
There is also the fact that many Windows legacy apps are difficult to use on a tablet. This software was designed to be used with a mouse and keyboard rather than a touchscreen and viewed on a bigger display than a tablet, often making it fiddly and frustrating to use on a slate. Microsoft hopes to address these problems in part with a keyboard that can allow the tablet to function more like a laptop.
There may be room for both variants of the Surface to shine, and Microsoft does seem to be targeting them at different users. The Arm-powered version will ship with Windows RT, a version of the Windows 8 OS designed to run on Arm processors, and be priced to compete with rival tablets. The Intel version will ship with the full-version of Windows 8 and be more expensive, closer to the price of an ultrabook.
The Arm version of Surface will also be thinner than the Intel version. East believes that the slim form factor compared to the chunkier Intel tablet worked in Arm’s favour when Microsoft demoed the tablets in June, and said: “The launch was great for us.”
Speaking to TechRepublic at the Great Britain Summit on ICT on Friday, East also predicted that about half of all processors will be based on Arm designs within five years.
Arm designed chips currently account for about 30 per cent of all processors produced today, and power 95 per cent of all smartphones - including the Apple iPad and iPhone.
Arm’s RISC-architecture chips are well-suited to mobiles because they consume less power than those made by x86 giant Intel. East said that while compute power has mobile compute power has gone up by about a factor of 100 over the last decade, battery capacity has roughly doubled.
East predicted that mobile processors will continue to account for the bulk of the firm’s revenue in the near future but predicted a new market for its low power chips with the growth of embedded computing, cloud computing and pervasive wireless connectivity.
“All that network infrastructure, when there’s much more of it, has to be more power efficient and that’s a great opportunity for our power efficient technology,” he said - saying he’s sees a far greater role for Arm chips in the likes of servers, routers and network switches.
However ARM chips are reportedly about one year away from being server grade and Intel is prioritising development of low power chips with its Centerton processor.