It wasn't long ago that Intel faced almost no competition in the PC space. AMD had all but given up on creating competitive processors for desktops and seemingly had given up on laptops, and Windows RT turned out to be a failure for ARM processors and Microsoft. Today, however, the tables have turned, and Intel faces competition everywhere they exist. AMD introduced their Ryzen processors for desktop and laptop, finally bringing some competition to the processor space.
A year ago, another challenger appeared in the space, and it was Qualcomm, with their ARM processors. Microsoft announced the Windows 10 on ARM initiative, which would bring a full-featured version of Windows 10 to ARM processors, specifically the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835. Since then, Microsoft and Qualcomm have continued to assure us that the product was still in the works, but announcements about availability have been missing.
This week, at their Snapdragon Technology Forum, Qualcomm not only announced availability of the hardware, they showed it off on manufacturer hardware. The initial hardware will include the HP Envy x2 tablet, Asus NovaGo ultrabook and a Lenovo, which will make its first appearance at CES 2018. The first two were shown in action, and full specs were available. The third will be fully revealed in a month.
Qualcomm is showing that they are looking for a strong showing in this new market by announcing three major manufacturers as launch partners. The company has an uphill battle in gaining traction, so these partners are a good start. They will need to overcome Windows RT, which soured people who didn't know what it was towards Windows on ARM, and they also have to deal with the performance of the computers.
While running UWP applications will likely perform similarly on Intel and ARM, running applications designed specifically for traditional processors will have a performance drop. This is because these applications will run through a processor emulator, which takes the commands intended for Intel and convert them to commands for ARM, and then take the ARM return and convert them to Intel returns. We currently do not know exactly how much of a hit processes will take, but it could potentially be significant.
The big gains for ARM owners will be in battery life and connectivity. The aim for this new generation of hardware is always on connectivity, similar to how you interact with your phone. Hitting the power button should result in an immediate power-on, and you should still receive notifications even when the laptop or tablet is "off." Even with the always on status, the battery life should be greatly increased. The manufacturers are talking about 20+ hours of HD video playback on a single battery.
The availability date for these computers has not yet been announced, but with model numbers and working hardware on display, hopefully we will see these computers in the wild shortly after CES.