Texas Instruments and Qualcomm, two of the biggest suppliers of ARM-based processors in the smartphone market, have announced chips intended to run Microsoft Windows 8. Their arrival (probably) next year will help answer a number of interesting questions about the relative power, performance, and price of Intel and ARM chips, and the efficiency of modern versions of Windows compared with the Linux-based Google Android operating system. PC manufacturers will be able to ship tablets that can run both operating systems, much as today they ship netbooks and notebooks that can boot either into Windows or into a Splashtop-based version of Linux.
Qualcomm says the new version of its Snapdragon chip, the dual-core MSM8960, will have an integrated 3G/LTE modem. It will be followed early next year by the quad-core APQ8064.
Texas Instruments, providing more technical detail, pre-announced the OMAP4470 applications processor, which has two ARM Cortex A9 cores running at "up to 1.8GHz" for "an 80 percent increase in Web browsing performance". TI says the chip is suitable for "Android, Linux and the next version of Microsoft Windows". The integral graphics processor -- based on a Power VR SGX544 core licensed from Imagination Technologies -- can support three HD displays with up to up to QXGA (2048 x 1536 pixel) resolution.
Nvidia, the third major supplier, announced its quad-core Tegra 3 superchip as Project Kal-El back in February. It's assumed that this is the processor in the device Microsoft used when demonstrating Windows 8 at this week's All Things D conference. Kal-El can support HD graphics displays up to 2560 x 1440 pixels, which is like doing an iPhone 4 "retina display" on a 10-inch screen instead of Apple's poky 3.5-inch screen. It's also more than your Blu-ray player can handle.
However, it's not clear how many quad-core tablets will reach the market in the near future. Given enough memory, Windows 7 runs passably on single-core Intel CULV chips, and acceptably on a dual-core Atom. Since Windows 8 has the same hardware requirements, or less, a dual-core Cortex chip should be enough. While users might like the idea of having a quad-core for gaming, these fast chips are likely to slash battery life.
NVIDIA Kal-El Tegra 3 Notebook running Windows 8, from Netbook News