Qualcomm: First Windows 10 ARM PC coming in the fourth quarter

But don't expect a flood of Windows 10 PCs based on ARM chips
  • Agam Shah (IDG News Service)
  • 21 April, 2017 05:00

If you want a Windows 10 PC that doesn't have an x86 chip from Intel or AMD, your wish will be granted in the fourth quarter.

Qualcomm said the first cellular laptop with Windows 10 and its ARM-based Snapdragon 835 will come by the end of the year.

"Our Snapdragon 835 is expanding into mobile PC designs running Windows 10," and it's scheduled to launch in the fourth quarter, said Steve Mollenkopf, CEO of Qualcomm, according to a transcript of a Wednesday earnings call posted on Seeking Alpha.

Until now, Windows 10 has worked only on x86 chips. Qualcomm and Microsoft are collaborating to make the ARM-based Windows 10 PCs.

The thin-and-light device could be used as a tablet or laptop. It will take design cues from smartphones and is being called a cellular PC by Qualcomm and Microsoft.

The device will always be connected to a cellular network with a high-speed modem, much like a smartphone. It will have other wireless connectivity features like Bluetooth 5 and possibly Wi-Gig, which are integrated into the Snapdragon 835 chipset.

The cellular PC could also have a long battery life, considering Snapdragon 835 was designed for smartphones. Expect the superlight laptops to be 4K video capable with a powerful Adreno 540 GPU in the Snapdragon 835.

No major PC maker has yet announced an ARM-based Windows PC, though there's a company running a Kickstarter campaign to build an 8.2-inch device.

Don't expect a rash of ARM-based Windows 10 PCs to hit the market right away. Qualcomm is cautious and wants to initially test the market. Efforts to marry Windows PCs with ARM haven't worked well in the past, with customers rejecting Windows RT tablets.

PC makers like Dell and HP have expressed interest in cellular PCs but need time to test the devices. HP wants to see if there's enough demand for such a device before making a decision.

There are also questions about the number of x86 applications that will be compatible with ARM PCs, a major issue with Windows RT. Qualcomm promises that all x86 applications will work on the ARM PC, and Microsoft has shown demonstrated Photoshop running on Snapdragon 835.

The Windows 10 ARM PC will emulate the functionality of x86, which could slow down applications. The PC may not be useful to run resource-heavy applications but is aimed more at productivity applications.

Qualcomm is already doing well in the smartphone market, and the Snapdragon 835 is powerful enough to run PCs. Moreover, the company wants to assert itself as an all-encompassing chipmaker that can take on Intel in PCs and servers. Qualcomm's 48-core server chip called Centriq 2400 will start shipping later this year, and it'll compete with Intel's Xeon, which rules the server market.

Microsoft and Qualcomm work closely together on smartphones, and the Windows 10 Mobile OS requires Snapdragon chips. Beyond that, Qualcomm has been warming up to Microsoft in other areas as well. The two companies showed Microsoft's Windows Server OS running on Qualcomm's Centriq 2400 chip, though it's not certain if the OS will ever be commercially released for ARM. Linux and x86 chips dominate the server market.

As Qualcomm becomes more friendly with Microsoft, the chipmaker is having a rough time with its long-time partner Apple, which has filed a spate of lawsuits and complaints in China, the U.S., the U.K., and Japan.

Apple has claimed that Qualcomm used its dominant market position market to overcharge on chip licensing fees. Qualcomm, in the earnings call, said that Apple suppliers -- which acquire the licenses on behalf of the iPhone maker -- owe about US$1 billion in licensing fees. Apple is Qualcomm's major customer, so the uncertainty around licensing fees is making it difficult for the chipmaker to make revenue projections.