Microsoft is currently in a difficult position, similar to Intel and AMD. The x86 ISA is struggling due to the strong presence of ARM and its innovative products. Microsoft saw this coming more than two years ago, as they introduced their E-Core, a direct competitor to ARM’s high-performance cores. However, despite AMD exploring a similar concept with their “C” Core architectures, Microsoft still sees potential instability in the x86 empire. As a result, there’s a concerted effort to improve ARM support in the upcoming Windows 12, as well as potentially Windows 11 and Windows 10, as part of the “ARM Inside” movement.
Interestingly, Apple initiated this change by leaving Intel due to the lack of performance improvements, high CPU power consumption, and expensive prices. Apple then began developing ARM-based SoCs to create an ecosystem where apps could be shared across mobile and desktop devices with a unified design. Microsoft, on the other hand, continued to rely on Intel and AMD until now.
Windows 12 will offer support for ARM CPUs, and although Windows 11 already has some support for ARM SoCs, large-scale integration across the operating system is yet to be achieved. Windows is still focused on the x86 platform, which has been successful; however, as the market shifts and expands with ARM, Microsoft plans to support ARM with Windows 12, AI, and ARM SoCs. There are three key challenges that need to be addressed:
1. Specific drivers for a Windows PC with an ARM CPU: ARM CPUs with Windows 11 are so uncommon that manufacturers need to create dedicated drivers that pass Microsoft’s certification and testing standards. While this is not different from hardware by AMD, Intel, or NVIDIA, these companies do have generic drivers that provide support.
2. The gaming sector: Games, APIs, and drivers must support ARM-related elements. Issues include compatibility with OpenGL versions higher than 3.3, DirectX 12, and Vulkan, depending on the manufacturer.
3. Apps: Many apps, especially those requiring multiple APIs, do not function on ARM-based devices. This is a crucial issue to resolve.
Some people are pointing fingers at AMD and Intel, especially Intel, for not keeping up with the competition. Intel fell behind during the leadership of Bob Swan and his predecessor Krzanich. As a result, Microsoft is now adopting different approaches that allow Apple devices to run Windows applications on iOS and macOS, a feat unthinkable just five years ago.
Intel’s Meteor Lake aims to catch up with Apple in terms of power consumption and chip efficiency. AMD, on the other hand, is expected to unveil their E-Core with the Zen 5 architecture in the coming year, built from the ground up with the AM5 platform in mind. Though it will not have a 3D package, it will be interesting to see its efficiency compared to Apple and ARM.
Regardless, Windows 12 will serve as a gateway for ARM cores like Qualcomm’s Oryon and other upcoming offerings, revolutionizing the laptop market initially and potentially the desktop market in the future.