Are ARM processors the future of personal computing? Will they make the leap from powering only mobile and embedded devices, to the mainstream personal computer market? With Windows 8 support for ARM on the horizon, guest writer Erphan Al-Delgir sees some big changes on the way.
Since January 2011, when Microsoft debuted Windows 8 at the Consumer Electronics Show, there has been a lot of buzz about the upcoming features and capabilities in the Windows 8. One of the most significant new capabilities of Windows 8 is it’s ability to run on an ARM processor.
ARM, abbreviated for Advanced RISC Machine, processors have been prominent around smaller items over the course of the last decade, but have not been prominent in the personal computer market.
ARM-based processors are different from current PC offerings from Intel and AMD, in their way of handling instructions. ARM processors run on a RISC (Reduced Instruction Set Computers) architecture. A RISC architecture system processes single instructions per clock cycle, at a very high speed.
For the past few decades, this has fit perfectly with the products ARM processors serviced because they only required one task or, a number of minuscule tasks. This contrasts with a CISC (Complex Instruction Set Computers) architecture, which can follow complex sets of instructions. CISC processors (x86) processors have been more popular in PC’s because of the need for the processor to simultaneously run multiple complex operations.
Whereas CISC architecture based systems have heavy emphasis on the hardware (PCs), RISC architecture based systems have heavy emphasis on the software running. This is one of the reasons that ARM processors have received such little consumer exposure.
While ARM hasn’t been a household name over the last decade, it’s likely that each household has at least a handful of products, which are made possible through the use of ARM processors. Ranging from the first Palm Treo to the current generation iPhone – ARM processors have surely and steadily kept their market growing. ARM processors can be found in things as minuscule as digital clocks to pacemakers.
Microsoft’s announcement indicating the ability of Windows 8 primarily exposes two separate things. First, it’s intention of entering the tablet and netbook market through Windows 8, instead of a mobile operating system like Windows Phone 7. Whereas other popular tablets at the moment run “watered down” operating systems, such as the Apple iPad which runs a downplayed version of Mac OS X (iOS). Microsoft intends to integrate its amazing fully featured operating system environment onto tablets with the operating systems’ capability of running on an ARM system.
Microsoft’s other intention of supporting ARM in their newest operating system is the fact that the latest processors from companies like AMD and Intel are far beyond the needs of more than half of the PC market. While some people will need the latest variant of Intel’s offering (I confess, I will) most people will be quite happy with the features, and advantages, of ARM-based systems.
While CISC systems will continue to dominate the higher end of the personal computing world, ARM processors are only beginning to gain their share of the personal computer market. Microsoft’s stated goal is to implement ARM processors into tablets and netbooks running Windows 8. The advantages of ARM in these systems are much greater than the advantages of using CISC systems from Intel and AMD.
ARM processors require significantly less power and generate a lower amount of heat while running. Whereas a CISC processor needs to be cooled down by a fan, in most cases, a RISC processor is likely to stay much cooler and operate optimally without a fan.
ARM processors are also much less costly than Intel and AMD’s offerings. This is because ARM technology is licensed to manufacturers and developers to make their own variants of ARM processors. Whereas, with Intel and AMD, manufacturers must purchase the chips directly from Intel or AMD, with ARM they will be able to license the technology and develop the processors themselves at a cheaper cost.
Additionally, since RISC architecture is also simpler than the CISC architecture utilized by Intel and AMD, it’s likely that the overall manufacturing costs for ARM processors will be significantly less. The cost effectiveness of RISC technology is beneficial to both companies and consumers.
While I don’t see ARM as the market dominator in the next few years, I do see a lot of growth in the consumer market for this technology. With the backing of Microsoft, Apple, Qualcomm, Nvidia, and many others – this technology has the industries biggest and best behind it.
Guest writer Erphan Al-Delgir has just set up his first website, Teenly Political – “political views from a teenager who can’t seem to make up his mind.”
It would be hard to argue that young people aren’t the future – so, take a peek at how a smart young guy like Erphan looks at the future – take a run over to his site.
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