Next Stop for Windows 8: 64-bit ARM Processors?

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by Andy Patrizio

Just as Microsoft is getting Windows RT, its ARM-based port of its operating system, up and running, word emerges that the company will also port the OS to 64-bit ARM processors when they finally appear.

In a report out of ARM’s TechCon show, which recently ran in Santa Clara, California, PC World said that ARM was working with Microsoft on a 64-bit port of Windows RT, the product name for Windows 8 on ARM processors. The executive in question would not provide a specific release date, and both ARM and Microsoft declined further comment.

Windows 8

Neither company would offer a firm comment to Desktop Review either way. An ARM spokesman said “ARM works with all its partners to bring them up to speed on next-generation technologies, but does not speak specifically to its partners? product roadmaps or strategies.”

A Microsoft spokesperson gave their usual response. “We do not comment on rumors or speculation.”

Microsoft and its OEM partners only recently released the Surface tablet line, which runs Windows RT, a 32-bit port of Windows 8 for ARM processors. While virtually all x86 processors on the market are 64-bit and have been for some time, ARM’s processors are all 32-bit.

For tablets, the only benefit gained by a 64-bit processor is the amount of addressable memory. A 32-bit processor can only use 4GB of memory, while a 64-bit processor can use (in theory) 16 exabytes of memory. That isn’t really an issue now, since the 32-bit ARM processor is used in smartphones with 512MB to 1GB of memory and its use in tablets will not be the kind of power use done by a desktop PC.

At TechCon, ARM announced its first 64-bit processor designs, the Cortex-A57 and Cortex-A53, which are not due for servers and mobile devices until 2014. So if the two companies are working on a port, they have a decent amount of time.

ARM had to be cagey since its rival Intel was just a few miles away and undoubtedly had spies in the event, said one analyst. “ARM was being cagey about a variety of specifics about their current endeavor into 64-bits. They were in Intel’s back yard and no need to give the competition too much ammo too early in the game,” said Tom Starnes, senior analyst with Objective Analysis.

Before getting too excited over Windows 8, he said, we have to see if Windows 8 hits pay dirt even on x86, if Windows 8 in mobile goes anywhere and if Windows 8 on ARM goes anywhere.

Jim McGregor of Tirias Research was at TechCon and didn’t hear an explicit statement of Windows 8 support, but added “they expected support from other ‘proprietary’ platforms.” But he figures servers, not clients will be the priority for 64-bit ARM processors. “PCs are not driving technology anymore,” he said.


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