Windows laptops and tablets traditionally run on X86 processors such as Intel and AMD. Microsoft experimented with the use of ARM-based processors when it launched Surface RT and Windows RT in 2012, and cost the company dearly. However, the Surface RT failure was mainly due to the software. The system could only run a small subset of applications that had been compiled specifically for it, so I could not install Chrome or Photoshop, for example. It did not help that Microsoft's marketing for Surface RT was confusing to many consumers.
Fast forward to today and Microsoft is ready to give ARM to the laptops again. But this time, you can run any program you want. Windows 10 for ARM is officially launched today, and although Microsoft is not yet launching an ARM-based Surface device, the company has partnered with people like HP to launch a new class of laptops that Microsoft officially qualifies as "Always Connected." Dispositives. "
The promise of using ARM-based chips (and we're talking mainly about Qualcomm Snapdragon processors here) is that you'll get the kind of user experience you've gotten used to from your smartphones. devices will turn on almost immediately, will have wireless LTE connectivity and, perhaps most importantly, will offer the type of battery that will allow you to spend a day or two (and, in the future, perhaps a week) of work. .
Ideally, that's exactly what users will experience who really should not worry about which processors sit on their laptops once the first ARM-based laptops go on sale. and HP, who worked with Microsoft to launch the first devices with Windows 10 for ARM, claim that their first entries in this market will offer more than 20 hours hours of battery life of active use and about 30 days of standby.  ASUS is entering this market with NovaGo, a portable Gigabit LTE laptop with Snapdragon 835 platform technology. HP is bringing the ENVY x2 Surface clone to the party. The HP inlet offers support for 4G LTE2.
The biggest difference between the failed RT experiment and these new devices is that users will be able to run any existing Windows application and that all modern peripherals will simply work as well.
Like Erin Chapple, Microsoft's general manager of Windows, he told me that the company compiled the Windows 10 operating system for ARM. There is no emulation at the operating system level. However, the team spent a lot of time trying to decide where to set the boundary between the operating system and the emulated layer. In the end, Microsoft decided to compile all the DLLs natively (that is, most Windows libraries) and set the emulation layer above that.
For everything that is above this and needs to be emulated, Windows 10 in ARM uses a dynamic binary translator to translate the X86 code to the ARM64 code on the fly.
Due to these design options, most applications should run with near-native performance, because most standard Windows applications tend to call the operating system APIs (including graphics) directly, and all those libraries have been recompiled, after all. Whenever it is an application that has a high dependency on the CPU, you will see a performance hit.
Over time, however, Microsoft will surely make it easier to include precompiled applications for ARM in your market. , so that the heavy applications of the CPU can work at native speeds as well.
Rene Haas, the head of ARM's intellectual property group, told me it's worth remembering that his company started working with Microsoft in 2008 (and not just around Windows) RT, but also around the Windows Mobile ecosystem).
"We are very excited to know where we are," he told me. "It's been a long commitment with Microsoft on this platform, but it's also changed a lot since they first looked for Windows in ARM."
He said that a few years ago, ARM only offered a 32-bit architecture, for example, and that ARM-based chips have only reached the point where they are powerful enough to allow portable performance (in fact , Microsoft's Chapple also noted that one of the motivations for Qualcomm here is that its chips are now so powerful) they overshadow the standard workloads of the phone and the company is looking for other places to use them).
"I have lived the Windows RT journey and I think we have taken a number of past learnings that came from that to adopt a new approach to enable Windows on ARM that differs both in terms of the core platform experience and that is differentiated due to the central promise of Windows, "said Sones.
He also stressed that he expects Windows on ARM will also boost Intel, and expects that this category of devices will include machines powered by Intel in the future. "We have all seen that Intel is at its best when they are under pressure," he added.
ARM's Haas expects its company to continue to offer more powerful architectures with double-digit performance gains every year. From their point of view, we have now reached the tipping point in which ARM-based laptops can compete with Intel-based laptops. As the power of the ARM platform increases, he said, "it begins to take us to a class where we can be on par to offer an uncompromising experience on a portable PC."
Because we have not used any of these new devices yet, we just do not know if they are good. What we have seen, however, is that there is a PC market for snapshots in the form of Google Chromebooks. The goal of both Google and Microsoft is to offer their vision of what the future of mobile computing (and work) will look like beyond the smartphone. "We are competing around this new work culture," said Roanne Sones, strategy and device ecosystem manager at Microsoft. "That is what is changing and we have to make our device experience and PC experience modern."
In this context, ARM's Haas also stressed that this new architecture will also allow new form factors, simply by the fact that if you do not need a fan, you can place the CPU anywhere on a device (even behind of the screen) to enable new collapsible or removable products (or to put more batteries in these laptops).
It's interesting to see that Microsoft is launching this platform without a star device on its own Surface line. Maybe it is doing this to avoid the confusion that remains in Surface RT, but Microsoft's own team says that it does so because it wanted to work closely with its ecosystem partners to build, validate and strengthen this platform. Anyway, I hope we will see a Surface device with ARM engine in the not too distant future.