5G-capable notebooks are coming, and Huawei could be the first to market

Huawei is breathing new life into its MateBook line, following an uneasy summer caused by US government sanctions.

To 5G or not to 5G? Galaxy Note 10 delivers 'extremely capable upgrade' for business users Samsung just announced its Galaxy Note series update with the Note 10 and Note 10 Plus. Expected internal updates were made, along with improvements to the S Pen capability and camera functionality.

Despite an unclear future—as sanctions have not been formally lifted ahead of the August 19th expiration of the Temporary General License—Huawei is pressing ahead with plans to build a 5G-connected notebook, according to a report from DigiTimes, citing sources among Huawei's Taiwanese component suppliers.

This is a significant turnaround for Huawei, as the company previously cancelled orders for its relatively nascent PC OEM business. While Huawei has consistently ranked within the top five smartphone manufacturers in the past several years, the company is a relatively minor player in the notebook market inside and outside of China.

Huawei could plausibly be the first to market with a 5G-connected notebook, benefitting from vertical integration. Huawei produces its own 5G modem—the Balong 5G01—for use in Honor and Huawei-branded smartphones. The Balong 5G01, which was announced in February 2018, is capable of using sub-6 GHz and mmWave frequencies.

SEE: Windows 10 May 2019 Update: An insider's guide (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Assuming that Huawei can ensure supply of Intel or AMD CPUs despite trade restrictions, it would be likely that a 5G MateBook would be powered by an x86-64 processor, in contrast to ultrabooks powered by ARM-based Qualcomm Snapdragon SoCs, such as the recently-announced Samsung Galaxy Book S.

Microsoft and Qualcomm announced the first Snapdragon-powered notebooks in December 2017, as part of a long-term partnership to support Windows 10 for ARM—a significant engineering endeavor, as nearly all Windows programs are compiled for x86 (or x86-64). For this initiative, Windows 10 includes an inline emulator to support legacy 32-bit x86 apps, a feature that Microsoft faced heavy criticism for omitting in Windows RT, the previous attempt of running Windows on ARM-based CPUs.

While the Windows NT kernel was engineered to be easily portable to other architectures—originally debuting in 1993 with support for x86, Alpha, and MIPS, as well as adding support for PowerPC in 1995, Microsoft abandoned support for the latter three with the release of Windows 2000. Windows XP briefly supported Intel Itanium, though this was abandoned in January 2005.

Reception of Snapdragon-powered notebooks has been mixed, at best—the first-generation HP Envy x2 and Asus NovaGo, powered by the Snapdragon 835, were widely criticized for poor performance and app compatibility. Likewise, the Snapdragon 850-powered Lenovo Yoga C630 was seen as an improvement, though ZDNet's Charlie Osborne declared it "not suitable for resource-intensive applications." Oddly, the LTE connectivity—arguably the marquee feature of this initiative—is relatively unimportant, as CNET reports that less than half of Yoga C630 buyers activated that feature.

Previous entries in Huawei's MateBook series have been well-received, with ZDNet's Matthew Miller praising Huawei's first Windows 10 tablet, saying "it's great to see manufacturers challenge Microsoft's Surface devices," while Adrian Kingsley-Hughes said "the MateBook oozes quality." Likewise, Miller called the 2017 MateBook X "a fantastic piece of hardware," and similarly praised the 2018 MateBook X Pro.

Other PC OEMs are planning 5G-connected notebooks, with Lenovo's Jerry Paradise telling TechRepublic in May that the company is working on antenna placement for 5G mobile broadband on future ThinkPad models. Because of 5G's reliance on MIMO for faster data speeds, additional antennas are needed to enable this feature.

For more, check out "Huawei doesn't see open source as the fix for spying accusations (but it should)" and "It's 2019, and one third of businesses still have active Windows XP deployments" on TechRepublic.

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Image: Sarah Tew/CNET

By James Sanders

James Sanders is a staff technology writer for TechRepublic. He covers future technology, including quantum computing, AI/ML, and 5G, as well as cloud, security, open source, mobility, and the impact of globalization on the industry, with a focus on ...