Enterprise Mobility & the Connected Worker Blog

Qualcomm’s Reinvigorated Windows on ARM Strategy

by Emily McIntosh 1/31/2023

CPUs made with Advanced RISC Machine (ARM) architecture are inherently mobile-friendly. A benefit of ARM devices includes low-energy consumption, extending battery life. Low heat production makes noisy fans obsolete. Compact, simple circuits and slim designs translate to portability. ARM chips also win in terms of affordability. It’s no surprise ARM processors have long been the ideal CPUs for phones and tablets, but we have yet to see the advantages of ARM technology actualized in a Windows PC powerful enough to rival Apple’s Mac, which has been successfully ARM-based since 2020. While Apple’s transition to its internally developed CPUs – and away from Intel’s x86 architecture – has been met with multiple challenges, these investments are beginning to pay significant dividends as Apple has achieved a performance premium over Windows PCs.

Windows on ARM solutions to date have failed largely due to a lack of portability of legacy applications. In addition, the resulting experience has been one of performance and functionality compromise. If performance is equivalent or better, end consumers do not care which chip powers their device, but ARM chipsets of the past were priced similarly to x86 yet performed poorly. Apple’s ARM-based M2 Max surpasses current Windows on ARM options in not only clock-speed, but also performance per watt. Its 67 billion transistors provide unparalleled efficiency by optimizing workload down to a zero state, increasing battery life. However, recent developments by Qualcomm could level the playing field for Windows.

In 2021, Qualcomm acquired Nuvia, former Apple chip designers. The new team is now operating in the same manner that Apple has been for years, and they are reportedly testing a 12-core Oryon CPU chipset, code-named Hamoa, with a Snapdragon x65 5G modem. The Snapdragon 8cx Gen 4 will rely on snapdragon x65 5G modem and come with WiFi7. Unlike Apple’s M2 containing 8 cores, Qualcomm’s new chipset is said to have 12 cores including 8 performance cores tested at frequency of 3GHz and 4 efficiency cores running at 2.5GHz. The cores will provide 12MB of L2 cache and 4MB of Adreno graphics (like that of smartphones) which enable machine learning, decoding video up to 4k120fps and encoding up to 4k/60fps along with AVI (not featured in Apple’s M2). The chipset will also support discrete GPU and a triple high-resolution monitor (5K+4K+4K) setup. Updated memory is testing at a lower frequency of 4.2 GHz which equates to extremely long battery life. RAM is likely to be as high as 64GB of LPDDR5X, a step above Apple M2’s LPDDR5. Seemingly, Qualcomm has finally achieved long-awaited increases in performance and efficiency for Windows on ARM.

The Oryon chipsets will debut in 2024 with a variety of high-end Windows laptops, tablets, and possibly mini-PC formats. ARM architecture for PCs is expected to scale from the low single digits in 2020 to the low teens by 2023 and could even capture more than twenty percent of the market share before 2030. The shakeup in the PC market that provides Qualcomm room grow, leaves already vulnerable Intel on increasingly shaky footing. The historically dominant player has been continuously losing market share over to challengers the past five years. Microsoft and Windows OEMs could have a distinct advantage over Apple if they manage to marry Windows-exclusive attributes such as 2 in 1 form factor, touchscreens and OLED screens with ARM based CPUs. Enterprises are looking for 5G-enabled PCs that enable remote collaboration as they migrate workloads to the cloud and Windows on ARM has the potential to fill this space. Qualcomm also envisions ARM-based Windows laptops to feature improved GPS, high-res cameras, and AR advancements. The future of Windows on ARM holds a lot of promise.