Full-fledged Windows on ARM-based hardware took a major step closer to reality this week. During the Computex 2017 tradeshow in Taipei, Microsoft officially announced the impending release of so-called "Always Connected PCs" featuring eSIM technolgy, some of which will be powered by Snapdragon 835 processors from Qualcomm.
Echoing the software giant's relatively new "cloud-first" ethos, Microsoft envisions a new breed of Windows PCs that enable users to remain continually connected to the cloud. Characterized by all-day battery life and always-on internet access courtesy of eSIM and gigabit LTE technologies, Always Connected PCs can help bridge the gap between traditional PCs and cellular-connected smartphones and tablets, allowing users to access their cloud applications and services without hunting for a WiFi network.
The connectivity piece will be provided by eSIM, an evolution of the subscriber identity module, or SIM. eSIM technology essentially dispenses with the "card" part of SIM cards, typically found in smartphones and cellular-enabled tablets, allowing electronics manufacturers to embed SIM circuitry directly into their devices.
Microsoft is working with Intel and Qualcomm, along with mobile operators, to provide eSIM connectivity on upcoming Always Connected PCs, announced Peter Han, vice president of Partner Devices and Solutions at Microsoft.
ASUS, HP, Huawei, Lenovo, VAIO and Xiaomi will be shipping Windows 10 Always Connected PCs with Intel x86 processors and built-in eSIM circuitry. ASUS, HP and Lenovo will offer versions powered by the ARM-based Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 chipset.
Although it's not the first time Microsoft has come up a version of the Windows operating system for ARM processors, Microsoft's latest efforts mark a big departure for the company. Buyers largely avoided the ARM-compatible Windows RT operating system, which shipped with Microsoft's ill-fated Surface RT tablet, due to its inability to run the massive library of x86 software that the Windows ecosystem has amassed over the years.
Things are different this time. During last fall's WinHEC 2016 conference in Shenzhen, China, Microsoft officially announced that Windows was coming to ARM-based PCs.
"For the first time ever, our customers will be able to experience the Windows they know with all the apps, peripherals and enterprise capabilities they require, on a truly mobile, power efficient, always-connected cellular PC," said Terry Myerson, executive vice president of Microsoft's Windows and Devices Group, in a Dec. 7, 2016 announcement. He added that PC makers "will be able to build a range of new Qualcomm Snapdragon-powered Windows 10 PCs that run x86 Win32 and universal Windows apps including" mainstays like Office and Photoshop.
Those PCs may show up later this year. During an earnings call in April, Qualcomm CEO Steve Mollenkopf let slip that Windows 10 mobile PCs running on the company's Snapdragon 835 chip were set to arrive in the fourth quarter of 2017.
Microsoft and Qualcomm have also successfully ported Windows Server to the latter's 64-bit ARM-based (ARM64) Centriq 2400 server chip. However, the company has no plans to commercializing the operating system for ARM64 systems.