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Windows 8 Demos & ARM devices

Gordon Kelly


The Impact of ARM on Windows

The hype leading up to Steve Ballmer's 2011 CES keynote was huge. Rumours were rife with talk of an Apple TV rival, the unveiling of Windows 8 and a Windows Phone 7 tablet. None of them materialised, the keynote was low on substance and high on fluff, a 20 minute discussion of Windows Phone 7's seven most useful features was mind numblingly misjudged. Restless members of the audience began talking amongst themselves and many walked out. The irony was this most tedious of company presentations would actually turn out to be one of Microsoft's most important...

The real news had come earlier in the day: Microsoft is making Windows 8 compatible with ARM chipsets. ARM, a British technology company, designs, licenses and sells the system on a chip (SoC) architecture behind the likes of Qualcomm's Snapdragon platform, Nvidia's Tegra 2, Marvell's Armada and Texas Instrument's OMAP range. In short Windows 8 will be able to run on smartphone architecture.

The impact of this news is staggering and has the potential to turn the structure of the technology sector on its head. On a corporate level Intel, AMD and VIA suddenly face an influx of new competition from an array of industry giants. On a product level these industry giants have years of experience in making fingernail-sized, hugely power efficient chipsets. "The next version of Windows supporting system on a chip is an important step for Microsoft and for the industry," enthused Ballmer, who finally found his theme an hour into the keynote. "Customers expect the full capabilities of a PC on any device. This will take them there."

"Nvidia, Qualcomm and ARM are working on products now," he continued and it wasn't just marketing hyperbole. Microsoft briefly demoed the Windows 8 core running smoothly on Snapdragon, OMAP and Tegra 2. The next gen OS was running a Windows 7 UI (presumably to hide features for now), but Ballmer revealed build numbers to authenticate the platform.

More importantly, each chipset ran smoothly as Ballmer operated the OS and given Tegra 2's graphic prowess its version even ran Aero and showed off 1080p playback of Iron Man 2. Intel's Sandy Bridge may wow us now, but with Windows 8 not due for release until late 2012 the evolutionary potential of these mobile chipsets is frightening.

Of course many questions remain...

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