Qualcomm Enters PC Quality Wars

eWEEK PC HARDWARE ANALYSIS: Qualcomm’s problem is that apps on Windows were developed for x86 and have, at times, run poorly on Qualcomm’s platform. To address that at Microsoft Ignite this week, the company announced, along with Microsoft, an expanded App Assure program so that those buying Qualcomm PCs could potentially get a similar experience to those buying PCs built under the Intel Evo program.

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Earlier this month, Intel launched a program called Evo (formerly Project Athena), which focused on Intel-only technology to create lines of PCs in which Intel ensured the resulting quality. This quality effort largely was enabled by the fact that Intel would control what went into the PC and could do a far better job of designing and assuring the makeup of Evo PCs. Their ability to begin the quality process at a chip level seemed unprecedented.

However, Qualcomm also has this capability, and PCs based on its technology are already based on Qualcomm parts. But Qualcomm’s problem is that apps on Windows were developed for x86 and have, at times, run poorly on Qualcomm’s platform. To address that at Microsoft Ignite this week, the company announced, along with Microsoft, an expanded App Assure program so that those buying Qualcomm PCs could potentially get a similar experience to those buying PCs built under the Intel Evo program. 

In effect, we now have a quality battle between Intel and Qualcomm and, I think, it is only a matter of time before NVIDIA (who just bought Arm and can now do something similar) and AMD enter this de facto "quality battlefield."

Let’s talk about the coming quality war this week. 

The Quality War

A few weeks ago, Windows 95 had its 25th anniversary, and that got me thinking about what a train wreck Windows was back then. The primary reason why Windows, up through Windows ME, was such a disaster is that no one seemed to own quality. At least Intel didn’t seem to own quality at a system level, which meant that you often had substandard components, bad drivers, and common overheating problems that resulted in system crashes and gave Windows PCs a nasty reputation. 

Over time Microsoft put in place programs to find problems like this and ways to make the vendors that created them fix those problems. However, you still had systems coming out that had bottlenecks, faulty cost-reduced components and reliability problems initially. This result was because there was little coordination between the component suppliers, the OEMs and Microsoft, leading to incompatibilities that didn’t get caught until the systems reached users’ hands. 

These days most of these problems can be addressed through support, updates and patches. But a system that either crashes a lot or doesn’t provide the performance you paid for is still irritating. Thus programs such as Intel Evo and this joint program between Qualcomm and Microsoft were created so the most reliable systems that were also optimized--thus providing the most performance for the buyer’s dollar--had lines that addressed their reliability and value needs. 

Once implemented, these programs from Intel and Qualcomm should significantly improve customer satisfaction and productivity (given the lower incidence of system failure) for users and. I also expect, in a few short years, IT will demand their systems go through similar testing and quality assurance programs. Breakage and downtime can have a substantial adverse impact on productivity. Thus, keeping people working is a primary duty for IT departments. 

What is also interesting about the Qualcomm program, given its focus on apps, is that it is the exact opposite of what software vendors do in the engineering segment. They specify the hardware that works with their systems, not the OEMs or the chip companies. Still, the two efforts are not mutually exclusive, suggesting they may favor quality assured platforms over those that are not quality assured. 

Wrapping Up

We’ve had battles over performance, weight, battery life, design and even power supplies. But, recently, quality has become a far higher interest and requirement. Both Intel and, more recently, Qualcomm, have taken up this challenge and are competing with each other to provide the most reliable offering. 

Given the pandemic, these programs are increasingly critical because IT organizations are thinly spread and don’t have the time to do break/fix work. By focusing on higher-quality solutions, both Intel and Qualcomm are stepping up to this challenge, and I expect AMD and NVIDIA aren’t far behind. While most wars do more damage than good, a quality war should improve everyone’s experience, and that makes this war a good thing. 

Rob Enderle is a principal at Enderle Group. He is a nationally recognized analyst and a longtime contributor to eWEEK and Pund-IT.