Microsoft gives Qualcomm’s Snapdragon WARTs

It is called Windows 10 now but it will fail for the same reasons

2012 Microsoft LogoMicrosoft is giving Qualcomm’s new SoCs WARTs and the excitement over Windows 10 on ARM is once again lacking. SemiAccurate was one of the few to call WART a failure last time, and this time looks to be less exciting but with more potential downsides.

OK to be fair this time around Microsoft is officially offering Windows 10 on Qualcomm’s SoCs/ARM SoCs not WART, but the concept is still the same. With some caveats, none of which make the already dismal outlook better, this turkey is doomed for all the obvious reasons. That isn’t to say Microsoft won’t try again, they have to otherwise Wall Street may question their viability in times of cratering to non-existent consumer PC sales.

Do recall that when Microsoft last tried to put Windows on ARM there was much excitement among those with things to sell and their paid press partners. None of these people bothered to publicly question the viability of a dog-slow heavy OS on a power constrained mobile platform with a complete lack of software. Then there was Windows 8 which only added to the user misery. It failed. No, it cratered the market, there wasn’t even a theoretical upside.

The problem for Microsoft was twofold, it was their way to leverage their Windows monopoly into the mobile space and it was meant to force developers to write managed code. Users stayed away in droves and Microsoft leveraged their mobile non-monopoly into vastly reduced desktop sales. Software developers didn’t like the idea of writing apps that were incompatible with >80% of the TAM at the time, plus a 30% Windows Store haircut on top the ground up recode job. All this for a potential <2% added marketshare somehow did not tempt many coders.

This time around Microsoft is doing it again with the WART name replaced by Windows 10. Better yet the utter lack of software is being addressed the obvious way, with x86 emulation. Please note that by obvious, we mean obviously ill-suited, we were not trying to intone anything positive there. Why? Look at the performance, battery life, and other headaches.

Theoretically the x86 emulation will allow for seamless running of all desktop x86 code on ARM based SoCs like the Qualcomm Snapdragon in question. In the real world, emulation takes a lot of CPU overhead, induces some rather random timing headaches, and adds massive CPU load to the picture. So you are comparing a Snapdragon 835 to an Intel desktop part with a massive power and IPC/general performance advantage. Apples to orangutans really, and emulation in games will work, well less well than the rosy press releases, think timing headaches and out of control power use.

What runs barely acceptably on a low power big Intel core and not at all well on an Atom is now going to run just fine on a lower performance Qualcomm SoC? The Qualcomm Snapdragon line is made up of world class SoCs but they are not aimed at the right market, they are mobile, low energy use parts meant for light OSes, not heavy bloated, desktop ones. This won’t end well.

Then add in the performance crater from emulation and you have something that makes molasses in winder look fast. Throw in the substantially higher energy use for decode on mobile devices and even the high skin temperatures won’t make said molasses run fast, but it will make your battery cry. There is really no up side to this process, it is just a bad idea, bad for user who will once again unknowingly buy a WART box, and bad on every technical level. Microsoft needs it to placate jittery stockholders questioning them about a mobile strategy though so it will be touted as a good thing by the tame and paid press.

Once again we won’t go out on a limb and predict this new polished WART will fail, there is no up side to making a device for Windows 10 on ARM SoCs vs an Atom CPU. The software base is solidly x86 and that isn’t going to change, Microsoft has spent billions trying to force the change to ‘managed code’, not to mention countless thousands of developer hours, and has nothing to show for it. There is simply no good that will come from this unless you work in retail tech sales and are looking for overtime hours. No not in sales, in the returns section, just like last time.S|A

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Charlie Demerjian

Roving engine of chaos and snide remarks at SemiAccurate
Charlie Demerjian is the founder of Stone Arch Networking Services and SemiAccurate.com. SemiAccurate.com is a technology news site; addressing hardware design, software selection, customization, securing and maintenance, with over one million views per month. He is a technologist and analyst specializing in semiconductors, system and network architecture. As head writer of SemiAccurate.com, he regularly advises writers, analysts, and industry executives on technical matters and long lead industry trends. Charlie is also a council member with Gerson Lehman Group. FullyAccurate