Questions over which Intel chips support the XP Mode feature in Microsoft's upcoming Windows 7 operating system lead to a rare debate over processor-operating system compatibility. Engineers with AMD and Intel work closely on an ongoing basis with those from Microsoft, so that by the time an OS is ready to ship, there are few, if any compatibility issues between the chip and software, the companies said.
The current question of which Intel processors support the XP Mode feature
in Microsoft's upcoming Windows 7 operating system shines a light on a
relatively rare issue involving processor-OS compatibility.
Windows 7's XP Mode will let users run Windows XP-based applications in the Enterprise,
Professional and Ultimate versions of the new operating system. The offering is
another incentive for users to migrate from their older Windows operating
systems to Windows 7, which is due out in early 2010, although many industry
observers expect it to launch in 2009 before the holiday season.
John Spooner, an analyst with Technology Business Research, said XP Mode is
the perfect example of how virtualization technology can be used in desktops
"That is what's great about desktop virtualization," Spooner said.
"In this case, it lets you run your older [XP] applications on Windows
The issue that has come up in recent days is that not all Intel
those from Advanced Micro Devices,
for that matter-offer the hardware-based virtualization
technology that is needed to take advantage of XP Mode.
This will particularly hit consumers, who are more likely than businesses to
buy laptops and desktops powered by lower-end processors, which tend not to
have the chip makers' virtualization technology. Not putting in the
virtualization technology enables chip makers to keep down the cost of those
low-end processors, Spooner said.
Almost all AMD chips except those in the
low-end Sempron line offer the AMD-V
virtualization technology, said Margaret Lewis, director of commercial
solutions at AMD.
As for Intel, most of its enterprise-level processors offer Intel
VT virtualization capabilities, said
spokesperson George Alfs. Intel introduced the technology in 2005 and has
shipped more than 100 million chips with the feature since then.
In a statement, Intel said, "Windows XP Mode is targeted for business
customers. It is available on the mid- to higher-end versions of Windows 7 and
is supported in hardware by many Intel processors. Intel vPro technology PCs
are required to have an Intel VT-capable CPU and Intel VT-capable BIOS. They
are the best platforms for testing and deploying Microsoft Windows Virtual PC
and Windows XP Mode."
Alfs said to find out which features are in which processors, users can
Users who want to
test their own systems can go here.
The AMD and Intel virtualization
technologies are BIOS settings, and AMD's
Lewis said many system makers ship their machines with the feature turned off.
While the issue of whether a chip has the virtualization technology to
support XP Mode is primarily a consumer problem, and can be determined quickly
enough, determining whether the virtualization capability is turned on or off
could become a headache for some businesses, Spooner said.
"For a lot of systems, [making that determination] is going to require
a desktop visit [by an IT staff member], which can be expensive," he said.
"But I'm not sure if there is a remote way to figure that out."
Lewis said the issue highlights that area where "hardware and software
really touch," and where chip makers work closely with Microsoft to ensure
Both she and Alfs said compatibility with Windows is rarely an issue. AMD
and Intel engineers work closely on an ongoing basis with their Microsoft
counterparts not only as the operating system is being developed, but also as
the chip makers lay out plans for future processors and architectures, they
Alfs said Microsoft
builds its Windows OS on the x86 architecture, and the
long beta testing cycle the software maker undertakes ensures close
compatibility with Intel hardware designs. In addition, Intel gives Microsoft a
long view of its product development plans. For example, Intel engineers
already are sharing information with Microsoft about "Sandy
Bridge," the chip architecture
that will replace "Nehalem"
sometime in 2010 and will offer such features as on-chip graphics
technology and the AVX instruction set.
"These are chips and platforms that are not even on the market
yet," Alfs said.
Lewis said in most cases, the hardware is given to software makers, who then
ensure that their offerings are compatible. For example, Windows 7 will take
advantage of AMD's RVI (Rapid Virtualization
Indexing), which enables better management when hypervisors, a guest OS and
applications are involved, she said.
"The hardware is presented to the software [makers], and then they put
their magic into it," Lewis said.