Chip-maker Qualcomm makes low power processors for smartphones and tablets. A few years ago the company also wanted to see its chips in small laptop-like devices it called smartbooks, but that form factor never took off.

That could change when Windows 8 hits the streets later this year.

Smartbook concept

Windows 8 will be the first full version of Microsoft’s desktop operating system to support ARM processors as well as x86 chips from Intel and AMD. We’ve heard a lot about upcoming Windows 8 tablets which will go head to head with the Apple iPad and with Android tablets.

But now PC World reports that Qualcomm is also preparing a 28nm quad-core Snapdragon S4 processor designed specifically for notebooks.

They won’t be the only thin and light laptops designed to get long battery life. But Qualcomm says its low power chips should allow PC makers to build computers that are even thinner than the machines based on Intel’s ultrabook platform, while offering longer battery life and always-connected capabilities.

One thing that a Qualcomm-powered smartbook wouldn’t be able to do is run legacy Windows applications. There are thousands, possibly millions of apps designed to run on Windows 7 and earlier operating systems which may not be able to run on Windows 8 computers with ARM processors unless developers update the apps to support ARM architecture.



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20 replies on “Qualcomm developing quad-core ARM chip for Windows 8 laptops”

  1. Freescale i.MX6quad will also be a suitable SoC for netbooks  as it supports SATA. But I doubt Windows 8 will be ported to this platform since Freescale does not appear to be a Microsoft partner.

  2. as the vista / XP example demonstrated clearly industry will not replace legacy applications ’cause microft tries to change the game only to earn money again. thus win8 arm devices risk to be pushed into a mere consumer corner and from there to compete against tablets or netbooks (that are able to run almost  any stuff out there in the wild btw) will be a hard living.

  3. I’m still sceptical about the whole thing.
    The main appeal of Windows is legacy app support, not supporting legacy apps removes any advantage of havin WINDOWS on a ARM mobile device.

    And since most popular, or windows exclusive programs are closed-source, you are at the mercy of the developers to port it to WoA. And upgrades to WoA versions will rarely be free.

    The overwhelming majority of Linux software on the other hand is already open source, and can be ported by just about anyone, for free.

    So it seems to me Linux Smartbooks are a smarter idea than windows ones.

    1. There’s more to Windows than just legacy support, up till now ARM hasn’t really been able to run desktop OS of any type.  Multiple attempts of using even Linux have always showed ARM’s previous short comings.

      It’s only now that they are finally able to start rivaling Intel ATOM level performance that they can be expected to be able to properly run a desktop OS and with that comes advantages even if legacy support is still missing.

      Mind that Mobile OS and apps are limited by design so they can run properly on the low performance hardware that ARM provided. 

      However, desktop OS means breaking out of those previous design limits and allowing for more powerful applications and features to become available that you just can’t get from a mobile OS and mobile apps.

      Desktop web browsers for one thing will be a significant change.  Along with many other things that will improve the overall experience of using a ARM based device.

      Though performance is still limited enough that many of the more powerful programs still can’t be run on a ARM system anymore than they could have been on a Intel ATOM system for comparison.

      While it may be easier to port linux apps to ARM than Windows, it remains that Windows is still the most widely used and more likely to be supported consistently versus the random distro and usual company specific customizations they tend to do. 

      Though it’s not like there won’t be options, Tizen will likely be the most common alternative OS and plenty of companies will play around with various versions of linux even after Windows 8 for ARM comes out.

  4. I’d rather make a Linux/BSD compatible laptop like this. I’m sure they want to as well, but MS will probably stop them somehow.

    Just imagine something like this giving a full day and a half of battery life with Arch Linux and a lightweight window manager running. Would be sweetness personified!! Ditching the touchpad and bringing back the good ol’ trackpoint would be icing on the cake.

    Hey, I can dream, can’t I?

    1.  It’ll take more than just ARM hardware to provide all day computing on such a small system.

      Even mobile OS like Android or iOS have to be optimized to be power efficient, along with the apps.  Problem being desktop OS are traditionally not made to be power efficient and thus would consume more power running…  Along with higher performance demands of apps that are made to be more powerful than mobile apps.

      ARM itself is optimized for easy simplification of design and efficient low power usage.  However, a lot of those optimizations involve things like being able to turn off parts of itself that aren’t needed at any particular time.  So eliminates much of the power wasted during idle periods.

      It’s one of the reasons why iOS avoided multi-tasking for so long as background operations prevent proper idling and increase power consumption.

      While another factor is ARM is starting to reach the limits of how much they can improve efficiency.  The new iPad being a prime example of this as instead of improving efficiency they instead increased battery capacity to compensate for the increased power consumption. 

      Unfortunately, battery technology has yet to significantly improve in over a decade.  While ARM itself is still a 32bit processor.  64bit memory management is starting to be used but they’re still years away from full 64bit.  Though Nvidia is coming out with its own solution by next year for at least the server market but it’ll be a long time before we see such in the general consumer device market.

      So it’s more a question of whether ARM can provide good enough performance than better performance as it’ll still be a few more years at least before they can start competing against Intel and AMD’s higher range offerings. 

      It’s just the low end Intel ATOM that ARM is finally starting to rival right now, but that’s a chip line that’s a few years old now and it’s about to get its first major overhaul next year.  So we’ll see then whether ARM will take over the low end laptop range or whether the Intel ATOM will reclaim that range…

  5. If these ARM netbooks have better performance than Atom ones then I’d get them. That is, if Microsoft enables software vendors to easily target both x86 and ARM desktops (ie. not Metro apps). Then the legacy software issue won’t matter. If you’re still using programs that has been abandoned by their develepors for a long time then it’s time to find alternatives.

    1. Yeah, I really hope ARM/x86 desktop development is just a matter of a compile switch. Otherwise, WoA is just another limited mobile OS for tablets. If it is easy then I agree with the choice of not having some sort of x86 emulation since that is likely to be extremely slow on the likely already slow platform.

    2. I’d really like to see a performance comparison between netbooks running on ARM and Atom based chipsets. If ARM performs lower than Atom then I don’t really care about the whole cross compiling of desktop software and legacy support issues. Atom netbooks are already too slow for many people and if ARM and Microsoft provides an even worse desktop experience then sales aren’t going to be very high.

      That just leaves the whole mobile OS tablet like Metro UI. If I’m limited to that then I’d just get an Android tablet or iPad.

      1.  Even if the next Gen ARM can clearly beat the present Gen Intel ATOMs, they’ll still be in the netbook range of performance much like AMD Fusion series. 

        Windows 8 though should be easier to run than Windows 7.  So performance should be a little better overall.  While we’ll have to wait and see how Windows 8 desktop mode works out in the final finished product.

      2.  Agreed about Atom.  Atom was far too slow, never real designed for “real” laptops, only cheap netbooks.  Ultrabook tablets like the Fujitsu P-series stuck to much faster Intel Core processors. 

        It’ll be interesting to see how these quadcore ARM processors do on Passmark.

    1.  Will depend on the software and platform…  For Android it depends on whether there are any pre-installed apps that require locked boot loader. 

      Like the Nook Tablet comes with the Netflix HD app and it won’t do HD unless the boot loader is locked.

      While MS is so far requiring the boot loader be locked for Windows 8 on Arm.  Though on traditional Intel and AMD the BIOS, or equivalent, should offer the option to unlock.  So that may give AMD and Intel a little edge on ARM for flexibility.

      Though some manufacturers like Asus may still offer a unlock option but will probably void warranty and prevent future updates if used… at least not without restoring the original state and you’ll need to remember to make a backup first.

  6. Here we go again. Isn’t smartbook dead already? Let’s think forward thinking, how about these are actually netbooks with ARM processors. Nope, that makes way too much sense I suppose. Let’s all fragment so more to gain that web traffic edge. Regardless of the idiotic naming issues, this ARM business sounds great for the category. No doubt Intel Atom smells fear at this point. So ARM, Intel and AMD for netbooks? I’m all for that. Not going away anytime soon, except for bloggers killing off the category with their own hands. Oh yes, that’s just the name of course…

    1.  Well, I’d point out the term Smartbook means the system retains Smartbook features and capabilities and that differentiates it from other terms like netbooks.

      So really depends whether the end product is more Smartphone than laptop as to whether it makes more sense to still call it a Smartbook or another term like netbook…

      1.  If my memory serves, I do recall the trademark dispute they had with a Germany company and they lost. I do believe aside from the naming issue, they had the product failure to go along with it. That’s a classic lose lose scenario. 🙂

        1. No, Qualcomm won its legal battle with Smartbook AG, in Feb 2011, when the German patent office ruled the words “smart” and “book” could be used.

          While the German company never held the trademark in some big markets like the United States, China, Japan, or India.

          Rather it was the iPad, which Qualcomm CEO Paul Jacobs admitted already filled the role of a Smartbook that really took the interest out of Qualcomm using the term.

          But that doesn’t change what people will choose to call it and if it’s basically a Smartphone in laptop form factor then they’re likely to still call it a Smartbook.

          Albeit, Windows systems will be far less likely to be called Smartbooks even if they still have features like 3G and always connected.

          1.  I would suggest with respect that people will call it whatever name that will get more traffic to their websites. It’s obvious they need a name. They can join the ultrabook, chromebook, and soontobenamedbook.

            I do give smartbook a chance at this point as a product though. The more the merrier. I don’t mind seeing another party crasher coming to the ultrabook fail.

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