More details have emerged about forthcoming Windows 10 PCs that will use next-gen smartphone hardware for "beyond all-day" battery life and 'always available' 300Mbps+ downloads.
In a demo at Computex tech conference in Taiwan, Qualcomm showed Windows 10 running on the ARM-based Snapdragon 835 chipset used in high-end smartphones, such as the Samsung Galaxy S8.
The demo coincided with the announcement that ASUS, HP and Lenovo will be the first computer makers to build thin, light and fanless Windows 10 PCs running on the Snapdragon 835 hardware. The first machines are due out by the end of this year.
At the show, a Snapdragon-based PC was shown running the full version of Office 2016 on Windows 10 Enterprise Edition, copying text and graphs between Word, Excel and PowerPoint, which were running side-by-side with no noticeable lag.
One of the key advantages of the machine over traditional PCs is the Snapdragon's 835's integrated X16 LTE modem, which is designed to offer up to one gigabit download speeds, up to 10 times faster than first-generation 4G LTE devices. In practice download speeds were somewhat lower, though still fast.
In the demo, a Qualcomm rep downloaded a 30 minute, HD video in about 30 seconds over the cellular link, with the 1.9GB movie downloading at between 330 and 380Mbps.
"When you have access to these really high data rates and you can pull down data from the cloud whenever you need it, local storage is no longer the limitation it has been," said the rep, not addressing the wider problems of spotty mobile network coverage and extortionate data costs.
"That's why we think the always-connected PC is actually something different than just a laptop with a cellular connection. This is actually something new where you have access to a huge amount of resources."
Snapdragon 835-based PCs will also feature support for 2x2 802.11ac MU-MIMO Wi-Fi.
Longer lasting batteries are the other big selling point for Snapdragon-based PCs, with Qualcomm claiming the machines will offer "beyond all-day battery life".
This low power consumption stems from multiple aspects of the technology. The Snapdragon 835 can power down CPU cores when they're not being used and benefits from ARM's big.LITTLE architecture, which couples powerful processor cores with slower, battery-saving cores in order to maximise the time between charges. The Snapdragon 835 also has the advantage of being manufactured using a 10nm process, which allows chipmakers to build more efficient processors.
The result will be a PC that will use very little energy in sleep mode but will still switch on instantly, can be always listening for voice commands and that syncs data in the background, the rep said.
He added the machines will operate "at a much lower power than what you would see for the sleep on traditional CPU architectures, which are doing nothing while they're in sleep mode".
Any Win32 application can be downloaded and run on the Snapdragon-based PCs he said, downloading and running the program 7Zip to demonstrate.
The prototype PC, which had 4GB RAM and used a 1.9GHz core for the less powerful offering in its big.LITTLE pairing, was shown running five script-heavy sites side-by-side in the Edge browser without a problem.
The Snapdragon 835 SoC features the Qualcomm Kryo 280 CPU, Qualcomm Adreno 540 GPU and Qualcomm Hexagon 682 DSP. PCs will support playback of 4K video with 10-bit color—HEVC encoded—as well as foveated rendering of 3D graphics for better virtual reality performance. The Qualcomm rep demoed smooth 1080p and 4k playback on YouTube.
However, he added the machines were primarily machines for everyday, rather than heavyweight, use.
"The kind of device we're going for here is that thin, light fanless sort of device," he said.
"So we're not trying to be everything to everyone. This is not the gaming PC, this is not the Photoshop machine that you would have in the office as a professional photographer. This is, if you need to run Photoshop and do something quick and dirty, run some photo editing while on the road, it can do that."
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, and demos of Windows running on Snapdragon processors to date haven't revealed any performance issues.
More on Windows and Qualcomm
- Windows 10: Fast-charging PCs using Galaxy S8 Snapdragon chip out this year
- First 'Always Connected' Windows 10 on ARM PCs are coming from ASUS, HP, Lenovo (ZDNet)
- 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.