Microsoft plans to release a new version of Windows 10 that runs on devices with ARM-based chips from Qualcomm. Unlike earlier versions of Windows-on-ARM, the new operating system will include an emulation layer that lets you run Win32 apps, which means that millions of programs which couldn’t run on Windows RT (or Windows 10 Mobile, or even the new Windows 10 S) should be able to run on Windows 10 on ARM.

Well, that’s the idea anyway. But Intel may plan to throw a wrench in the gears.

Intel’s Steven Rodgers and Richard A Uhlig published a blog post this week that ostensibly celebrates the nearly 40 years of Intel’s x86 architecture by highlighting some of the advancements that have been made over the years.

But toward the end of the article there’s a section called “Protecting x86 ISA Innovation” that seems to be a thinly-veiled threat.

The gist of this section is that Intel protects its patents vigorously, and not only against rival chip designers, but also against those that attempt “to emulate Intel’s proprietary x86 ISA without Intel’s authorization.”

I’m just going to block quote this next part, because it’s a very cleverly crafted bit of text that’s hard to read as anything other than a (thinly) veiled threat to sue Qualcomm and/or Microsoft if it turns out the company’s plans to emulate x86 on ARM appear to violate Intel’s intellectual property rights in any way:

Emulation is not a new technology, and Transmeta was notably the last company to claim to have produced a compatible x86 processor using emulation (“code morphing”) techniques. Intel enforced patents relating to SIMD instruction set enhancements against Transmeta’s x86 implementation even though it used emulation. In any event, Transmeta was not commercially successful, and it exited the microprocessor business 10 years ago.

Only time will tell if new attempts to emulate Intel’s x86 ISA will meet a different fate.

Of course, it’s not really clear exactly how the emulation layer for Windows 10 on ARM works, because Qualcomm and Microsoft haven’t really said much about the underlying technology. All we know is that Microsoft says you’ll be able to run Win32 apps at near-native speeds while taking advantage of features of ARM-based chips like the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 for low power consumption, integrated 4G LTE connectivity, and instant-on functionality, among other things.

At this point, Qualcomm’s fastest chips are only really competitive with Intel’s entry-level processors. But Intel is currently the top supplier of chips for Windows-powered computers. Rival AMD is stepping up its game this year, with its most competitive x86 chips in years. I’m sure the last thing Intel really wants is to have to compete with a whole new category of processors, so don’t be surprised if the company sends its lawyers after Qualcomm when more details about Windows 10-on-ARM and x86 emulation are revealed.

via ZDNet

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14 replies on “Intel makes not-so-subtle threat to Qualcomm and Microsoft over plans to emulate x86 tech for ARM chips”

  1. Well ARM isn’t exactly an open source architecture either. So it’s going to cost Microsoft either way to push ahead with x86 emulation. I’d say it’s down to battery life (CPU efficiency) as to which architecture is going to be more worth while for Microsoft to pursue. Certainly x86 has more intellectual infrastructure roads paved than ARM (most notably hardware compatibility).

  2. I suspect that Qualcomm wants corporations to replace laptops with cellphones. I don’t think that will takeoff… laptops are a very resilient form factor. Also, Intel appears to be holding off the chromebook invasion quite well. They have been lowering their prices to prevent ARM systems from getting a foothold.
    In summary, businesses will chose laptops over phones and Intel will lower their laptop SOC prices to ensure that no one else can gain marketshare.

  3. Talk about rewriting history!! The reason Transmeta “exited” the CPU business was that they were acquired by a little company you may have heard of called nVidia, and their tech turned into a chip that has seem some use, the Tegra series. There’s more than a little Transmeta in your Switch (and a ton of it in your Nexus 9!).

  4. I can’t see this as a wise move on Intel’s part. Sure, Microsoft is (rightly) looking to make windows available on other platforms to keep it relevant in the post PC world. Intel should be working hard on the post PC world as well, but instead, they seem to want to alienate their biggest partner in their success. This could if anything give MS an incentive to move away from x86 based systems even faster.

  5. There are no hardware emulation here. Simply put it’s like QEMU. Take x86 binary code and JIT it to aarch64 (aka arm64) then use + store for next time. TL;DR Snapdragon 835 does not talk x86 or x86_64 assembly. There is no intel x86 IP involved in SD 835.

    1. That depends on how it’s being processed surely? Say your JIT compiler looks at the next 8 instructions and figures out they could be performed by 1 aarch64 SIMD instruction. That logical 8->1 leap could be copyright by Intel and I think that’s what they’re trying to claim. Really hope I’m wrong.

    2. CPU design incorporates a lot of microcode this days, and Intel will have a bunch of patents protecting it, and they may also have defensive patents in the areas of software emulation — precisely for the purpose of preventing competitors from creating emulators.

      1. You Apple haters love to bring up apple when something has nothing to do with them, dont you

  6. Intel was sued by Transmeta and then Intel counter sued. The end result was Intel having to pay Transmeta $250Million. So I’m not sure why they posted that comment

    1. Looks like Transmeta never really turned a profit anyway, wouldn’t have been hard to knock them out of the game.

      The more I learn about Intel the more I feel it’s a poorly managed business and has been across its entire history.

      1. Intel is one of the most successful tech companies in the world, are highly profitable, and have dominated the CPU business for over a decade. Sure, they make mistakes, but poorly managed, across its entire history? That’s nonsense.

        1. Monopolies are hard to manage?
          They appear to have been caught with their pants down by AMD’s first competitive effort in a very long time.
          Where is Intel on the most prolific platform: mobile?

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