Nvidia, Qualcomm battle over early Windows 8 devices

The Windows 8 Consumer Preview, released today, is only available for x86 systems. But Nvidia and Qualcomm are already racing to supply developers and device makers with test PCs.
Written by John Morris, Contributor

There wasn't much hardware news out of Microsoft's launch of the Windows 8 beta at Mobile World Congress today. But dueling press releases from Nvidia and Qualcomm show just how intense the competition is likely to be as we get closer to the release of the first version of Windows designed to work on a range of hardware.

The Windows 8 Consumer Preview is only available for x86 systems, in others words PCs with processors from Intel or AMD. The ARM version, which will run on devices using chips from Nvidia, Qualcomm and Texas Instruments, is only available as a reference platform for certain developers and device makers. Furthermore there has been a lot of speculation over the timing of the two versions and whether or not the ARM version will support the same features (most recently hints that it won't support the enterprise manageability features).

None of this is stopping chipmakers from jumping on the Windows 8 bandwagon. In its release, Nvidia stated it is working with Microsoft to provide "Windows 8 test PCs to software developers and device manufacturers powered by the Tegra3 quad-core mobile processor." Meanwhile Qualcomm said it was working with Microsoft on an invitation-only program to provide software developers with test PCs based on its Snapdragon S4 MSM8960 processor with integrated 4G LTE to build and test Metro-style apps.

So where does that leave TI? It could be that the company is holding out for OMAP5. This week, at Mobile World Congress, TI gave its first public demonstration of the OMAP5430 processor, which is manufactured on an advanced 28nm process and is one of the first chips to use ARM's new Cortex-A15 architecture. The OMAP5430 has dual A15 cores running at up to 2GHz and Imagination's PowerVR SGX544 dual-core graphics.

Theoretically these ARM-based SoCs can be used in any Windows 8 PC, but initially they are likely to be found primarily in tablets and convertibles such as the Asus Transformer Prime. They will also compete with x86 solutions for tablets including Intel's Clovertrail Atom SoC and AMD's Hondo Z-Series-both of which should be available by the time Windows 8 launches.

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