Last week, we reported that MediaTek is planning to build a chipset for Windows on ARM. As it turns out, the Windows on ARM chipset space could be even hotter than that, because there’s a reason that we’ve only seen Qualcomm SoCs in ARM PCs so far. Qualcomm actually has an exclusivity deal with Microsoft for Windows on ARM, and speaking with people familiar with it, we’ve learned that the deal is set to expire soon.
Other than the fact that Microsoft has publicly said that anyone who wants to can build a Windows on ARM chip, this really shouldn’t come as a surprise. Qualcomm didn’t just start building PC chips hoping that Microsoft would compile Windows to support it. No, these two companies worked together to make it happen. Because of that, Qualcomm gets to enjoy a bit of exclusivity.
One thing I wasn’t able to learn is when the deal will expire, only that it’s the thing holding back other chip vendors from competing in the space. It’s possible that Samsung might want to throw its hat into the ring with its Exynos processors too, especially given its recent partnership with AMD for graphics power. This is also presumably why Apple Silicon Macs aren’t officially supported for running Windows 11, so hopefully that will change as well.
Qualcomm has always had a strong relationship with Microsoft (of course, it’s nothing compared to the relationship between Microsoft and Intel). If you look back at the Windows Phone era, Qualcomm chips were the only ones that were ever supported. In the modern era of Windows Phones, you won’t find a single one with anything but a Snapdragon chipset.
Between MediaTek’s Executive Summit and Qualcomm’s Investor Day, there’s been a very clear message that ARM SoC vendors absolutely believe that the ‘Wintel’ partnership is going to fade and that the transition to ARM isn’t just happening, it’s inevitable. Naturally, that means that all of these companies are going to want to be part of it when it opens up. Qualcomm has quite a head start though, given that it’s been doing this for a few years and on top of that, it’s going to start building its own custom silicon thanks to its Nuvia acquisition.
Windows on ARM was first announced by Microsoft and Qualcomm back in 2016. It was a big deal, as the big thing that separated it from the failed Windows RT was that it would be able to emulate x86 apps. Devices were announced a year later and started shipping shortly after that. Since than, Microsoft has added x64 emulation with Windows 11, along with ARM64EC, which makes it easier to run apps natively with emulated plug-ins. Of course, the company has more work to do to make Windows a better experience on ARM in general.
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