Monday, December 5th 2016

Microsoft Launches Windows 10 for ARM, Always Connected PCs

After the debacle that was Microsoft's last attempt at integrating its Windows OS with ARM in Windows RT, the company has now announced that products based on its new ARM approach are almost ready to come to fruition. The previous Windows RT failed, for the most part, because of its closed-wall ecosystem, where the only apps available for the platform were those being distributed on Microsoft's Store - which led to an overwhelming lack of good-quality apps that users were used to seeing in their laptops or desktop replacements. With Windows 10 for ARM and Always Connected PCs, that comes to an end, due in large part to Microsoft's apparent passion: emulators.

The new Windows 10 for ARM will enable ARM-powered systems (with CPUs such as Qualcomm's own Snapdragon 835) to run most x86 applications through the usage of a just-in-time philosophy. This means that any emulation will be run seamlessly through conversion of x86 code to equivalent blocks of ARM code. This conversion is cached both in memory (so that after the initial run, the emulated code is available right away) and on disk (which will likely work much like hybrid HDDs do, using their meager SSD cache to store the most frequently accessed programs). System libraries, however, are all native ARM code, including the libraries loaded by x86 programs. These are being called "chippie", as in (you didn't guess it) "Compiled Hybrid Portable Executables": native ARM code, compiled in such a way as to let them respond to x86 function calls.
As with any emulation, intensive applications will certainly see degraded performance compared to native applications, but for now, there's really no idea of how much of an impact this will actually have on the end user experience. Naturally, apps where user input is required for execution shouldn't have as much of a noticeable performance hit as other programs, such as rendering or image editing, should they require emulation.
On to devices, there have only been two announced for now: the ASUS NovaGo laptop (a convertible, really) and the HP ENVY x2 Tablet. The usage of ARM really does wonders for battery life, though those figures should likely decrease in the face of serious usage that requires emulation of x86 code. The Asus laptop is currently lacking in specs; however, ASUS is boasting of 22 hours of battery life or 30 days of standby, along with LTE that can run at gigabit speeds. HP's tablet, on the other hand, has been announced as offering a 12.3 inch, 1920x1280 screen; 20 hours battery life (29 days of standby); and a removable keyboard-cover and stylus. These devices are expected to ship with the lithe Windows 10 S, however, and not the full Pro version of the OS; however, as with other Windows 10 S offerings that have already hit market, it's likely a free upgrade to the Windows Pro version will be enabled.
Both systems use the Snapdragon 835 processor and X16 LTE modem, with HP offering up to 8 GB RAM and 256 GB storage on its option. Lenovo is also working on an Always Connected PC, but there's still not much to go on that front. However, tame your tickling senses and spending desires: these systems aren't due to ship until Spring 2018. And pricing, as always, is yet to be announced.
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