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ARM PCs with Windows 10 get a new start with Qualcomm Snapdragon 835

Agam Shah | Jan. 4, 2017
Qualcomm's Snapdragon 835 chip could make Windows PCs on ARM attractive again

Take your pick: whether you choose an Android smartphone, Windows 10 laptop or hybrid PC device, you'll be able to run Qualcomm's Snapdragon 835.

That sums up the versatility of the new chip: designed primarily for Android smartphones, it has the horsepower to run a PC. In fact, the Snapdragon 835 will  bring never-before-seen features to Windows PCs.

The chip, based on ARM architecture, will first arrive in smartphones later this quarter, with a good chance of appearing in new handsets from Samsung, HTC and LG.

It will also appear in PCs running Windows 10 later this year. Microsoft and Qualcomm in December announced they were collaborating to bring the Snapdragon 835 to "cellular PCs," which are thin-and-light Windows 10 laptops with smartphone-like, always-on connectivity to the internet.

When users buy a laptop with the Snapdragon 835, they will also get the fastest available LTE modem, Bluetooth 5 and Wi-Fi that supports the emerging 802.11ad standard, which is faster than today's 802.11ac. LTE connectivity doesn't come standard with PCs, but that could change with the Snapdragon 835.

In addition, the Snapdragon 835 has a fast eight-core CPU with four cores to run high-performance applications and four power-efficient cores for mundane tasks like audio playback. It has an integrated GPU that supports 4K video, DirectX 12 gaming and virtual reality headsets. The chip will be able to do a lot of what Intel's mobile chips can do.

The Snapdragon 835 is the first smartphone chip that has the ability to legitimately challenge Intel's decades-long domination in PCs.

In interviews, Dell, Lenovo and HP executives said the idea of cellular PCs with the Snapdragon 835 is interesting, especially with the line between PCs and mobile devices blurring. More PCs need to be constantly connected to the internet for web browsing, e-mail, applications and cloud services.

The capabilities of the Snapdragon 835, along with Microsoft and Qualcomm's promotional efforts, virtually ensures that some PCs will end up running the chip. However, PC makers are taking a cautious approach. They are still evaluating the Snapdragon 835 and haven't yet committed to releasing hardware based on it. That caution could be tied to the rough history of ARM-based Windows PCs.

In 2012, PC makers like Dell and Asus took a chance and built devices with Windows RT, a version of Windows 8 for ARM-based tablets and PCs. Microsoft also built a Surface tablet with a Qualcomm chip. But Windows RT was a bust, partly because of issues related to incompatibility of x86 applications and drivers. Users turned back to Windows PCs running on x86 chips from Intel and AMD.

But times have changed, and Qualcomm has observed and learned. The Snapdragon 835 will run a full version of Windows on ARM, and x86 applications will work, said Cisco Cheng, an evangelist for Qualcomm's Snapdragon technologies.


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