Despite a turbulent past, Windows PCs with ARM are making a grand return later this year, but only with Qualcomm chips.
Another big ARM chipmaker, MediaTek, is sitting out the opportunity to put its ARM-based chips in Windows PCs because the company sees it as a limited opportunity.
MediaTek’s chips are already used in Chromebooks, but ARM has had a turbulent history with Windows. That’s another reason for the company to stay out.
ARM getting into PCs is like Intel trying to get into smartphones—it’s a risky proposition, said Finbarr Moynihan, general manager of sales at MediaTek.
PCs are dominated by x86 chips from companies like Intel and AMD. But Intel failed in its attempt to unseat a dominant ARM in smartphones, and ultimately quit making chips for handsets.
“We’ve been down this path before, and we’ll see,” Moynihan said.
ARM’s last attempt to get into Windows PCs was a flop. Microsoft designed the Windows RT OS, which was a version of Windows 8, for tablets with ARM chips. Dell, Asus, and Microsoft were among a handful of companies that made Windows RT tablets but later pulled their devices off the market. Windows RT failed due to incompatibility with x86 applications and user confusion.
Even PC makers are cautious about Windows 10 on ARM and want to test it on devices before committing to make a product. But Dell, which was burned by Windows RT, is receptive to the idea of an ARM-based Windows 10 PC and considers it an interesting idea.
But Microsoft seems to have learned from the issues and is readying Windows 10 for ARM via emulation. Microsoft has demonstrated regular x86 applications running on ARM-based Windows 10 PCs.
These ARM-based super thin and light laptops will use Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 835 chip and are designed in the vein of smartphones, with the ability to stay on and connected for extended periods of time. The Snapdragon 835 chip is designed for smartphones and has features like Bluetooth 5, 4K graphics, and an integrated LTE modem.
MediaTek on Monday announced a new top-line chip called Helio X30, which has 10 cores. It’s designed for smartphones but boasts features that could also make it feasible for low-end PCs. It has blazing fast CPUs, integrated LTE, and high-end graphics, enough for a PC.
While the chip could be used in Chromebooks, MediaTek is mainly targeting Helio X30 at mid-range Android smartphones priced between $300 and $500.