Fast-charging Windows 10 PCs that use smartphone chips for long battery life will be available by the end of the year.
Chip maker Qualcomm has confirmed that "mobile" Windows 10 PCs built around its Snapdragon 835 system-on-a-chip (SoC) — which powers the recently released Samsung Galaxy S8 smartphone in the US — will be released between October and December.
The new Snapdragon processor should allow mobile PCs to last longer on a single charge. Qualcomm says the Snapdragon 835 consumes 25 percent less power than the chip that preceded it, and offers a fast charging technology called Quick Charge 4.0, which it claims generates enough charge to support five hours of smartphone use after five minutes of being plugged in.
More importantly, these PCs should run traditional Windows desktop applications, and not just a limited subset of Windows Store apps, as was the case with the failed ARM-based Surface tablets running Windows RT.
These Snapdragon-based PCs will run Win32 apps using emulation, necessary in order to run this x86 software on ARM-based hardware. This emulation has quite a large performance overhead, to the extent that earlier attempts at emulating x86 software on ARM platforms have generally struggled.
However, Microsoft claims to have developed an efficient emulator, which it has shown running Windows 10 Enterprise edition on a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor. In the video, seen below, Adobe Photoshop, Microsoft Word and the game World of Tanks Blitz are briefly shown running smoothly on the emulator.
Qualcomm says the performance of the Snapdragon 835 SoC, which it says is improved by 27 percent over its predecessor, will offset the toll taken by emulation.
In tests, TechRepublic's sister site CNET found a reference handset running on the Snapdragon 835 SoC to be similar to the performance of the iPhone 7 Plus in a number of benchmarks. However, recent comparisons of the Samsung S8 running on the Snapdragon 835 found it to be noticeably slower than S8 phones running on Samsung's Exynos' chipset.
Support for Windows 10 on new Snapdragon processors should also boost Windows 10's appeal on smartphones, allowing handsets to run a full version of Windows and its apps. If Windows 10 phones were to support legacy line-of-business and other desktop Win32 applications used by many firms, the ability of Windows 10 handsets to run as a lightweight desktop PC would suddenly become a lot more useful.
The release of Snapdragon-based Windows 10 PCs in Q4 of the calendar year was confirmed by Qualcomm president Derek Aberle on an earnings call with investors.
Other key features in the Snapdragon 835 include Qualcomm's Kryo 280 octa-core CPU, Adreno 540 GPU, the Snapdragon X16 LTE modem with one gigabit per second downloads and Bluetooth 5.0.
Taking on the data center
On the same earnings call, Qualcomm CEO Steve Mollenkopf confirmed that its server processor, the ARM-based 10nm Centriq 2400, will be commercially available by the end of 2017.
Earlier this year, Microsoft revealed plans to begin using ARM-based servers in its Azure cloud, in a significant move that would take it beyond using Intel x86 chips in its data centers.
Microsoft has been testing its Windows Server OS on ARM-based servers made by Qualcomm and Cavium, using the machines to run search, storage, machine-learning and big data-related tasks.
Qualcomm is pitching the Centriq 2400 as a competitor to the Intel Xeon, the workhorse of the data center, which Intel estimates underpins the vast majority of cloud services. The Centriq 2400 is a single-socket chip, available with up to 48 cores.
One advantage that Qualcomm has is that its Centriq processor is the first server chip to be made using a 10nm manufacturing process. The size 10nm relates to how closely transistors are packed together on the chip's surface, and as that number lowers it allows chipmakers to produce chips that are more efficient and more powerful.
However, despite ARM-based servers being available for more than five years, they have failed to make a significant impact on the data center market, possibly as a result of Intel lowering the energy consumption of its processors in recent years and introducing its low-power Atom processors to the server market.
More on Windows and Qualcomm
- Qualcomm's next chip means a slimmer, longer-lasting phone (CNet)
- Windows 10 on your smartphone: Microsoft brings desktop apps to mobile
- Qualcomm, Microsoft team up on Windows Server on ARM servers, submit spec to Open Compute Project (ZDNet)
- Microsoft's Windows Server on ARM move: More questions and answers (ZDNet)
- Microsoft is bringing Windows 10 desktop to ARM processors (ZDNet)
Nick Heath is chief reporter for TechRepublic. He writes about the technology that IT decision makers need to know about, and the latest happenings in the European tech scene.