Qualcomm has big plans to bring back ARM to Windows 10 PCs, and there is a chance that its Snapdragon 835 could support Windows Holographic for VR headsets.
The company is already working with major PC makers for using Windows 10 with Snapdragon 835, its latest chip introduced in Sony’s Xperia XZ smartphone at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.
The response to Windows 10 with Snapdragon 835 has been positive, and the grim memories of Windows RT—a colossal failure in bringing ARM to PCs—have remained in the past, said Keith Kressin, senior vice president of product management at Qualcomm Technologies.
“The goal is to get something credible out, show people why it’s different from RT. Show that it’s Windows 10—there isn’t a second version of Windows 10,” Kressin said.
Late last year, Microsoft and Qualcomm introduced the concept of cellular PCs, which are thin-and-light laptops with LTE connectivity. The Snapdragon 835 will be installed in those PCs. The chip offers the latest technologies like Bluetooth 5 and a gigabit modem.
The devices are being made with smartphones as models. The devices will have long battery life and remain always connected to the Internet.
The first Windows 10 PCs with Snapdragon 835 will come later this year. The cellular PCs will be priced at a “sweet spot,” Kressin said. They won’t be extremely low-cost, but they also won’t be too expensive, he said.
The Snapdragon 835 chip will go into high-end smartphones, which can be expensive. But prices of cellular PCs, in the end, will mostly depend on the PC makers and the configuration, Kressin said.
The release of cellular PCs will be gradual, not like the roll-out of hundreds of PCs with new x86 chips. The goal is to make sure people understand the purpose of cellular PCs, Kressin said.
“It’ll start, and you’ll see more headed into 2018 and 2019. It’s a patient move into the market, and establishing a new value proposition,” Kressin said.
Dell and HP are among companies that expressed interest in the concept of Windows 10 PCs with ARM processors. But there’s a big hurdle—Windows on ARM was tried before with Windows RT and failed. Windows RT didn’t support conventional x86 applications used on PCs, and sales of devices were slow.
Users instead stuck with x86 PCs and tablets, and PC makers quickly discontinued the Windows RT tablets and PCs.
But with Snapdragon 835, users will be able to run all applications on Windows 10. It’ll be done via an emulator, which Microsoft and Qualcomm are working on. The devices will be most relevant to web browsing and productivity applications and may not provide the level of performance needed for gaming PCs or workstation-class applications.
There are also other opportunities in the Windows 10 ecosystem, including VR headsets, that could take advantage of the Snapdragon 835.
Qualcomm’s booth at Mobile World Congress this week showed off many Google DayDream virtual reality headsets using the Snapdragon 835. Microsoft’s HoloLens virtual reality headsets, which are based on x86, were being shown off at the Intel booth.
For now, Qualcomm’s chips won’t go into Windows Holographic headsets—that’s something Microsoft has to decide on—but Snapdragon 835 could support Microsoft’s VR platform. Windows Holographic is derived from Windows 10, which Snapdragon 835 will support, so there should be no trouble supporting Microsoft’s VR platform.
“There’s nothing that would prohibit it from a hardware standpoint. I just think it’s a function of time,” Kressin said.
The Snapdragon 835 chips are ready for PCs; they support the common PC interfaces including USB and other common port technologies. The chip may not support high-end connectors like Thunderbolt, which are targeted more at high-end users.
Intel dominates the PC chip market but is getting squeezed from several directions. AMD has released new x86 chips called Ryzen for high-end PCs, which has opened to impressive reviews. Qualcomm is bringing ARM chips to low-power PCs, which should keep Intel on its feet.