Microsoft officially announced its 10-inch Surface Go Windows 10 tablet in early July, and it launched with Intel’s Pentium Gold 4415Y processor. However, if Microsoft had its way, it would have likely gone with an ARM-based processor from Qualcomm.
According to long-time Microsoft insider Paul Thurrott, Microsoft was intent on using Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon processors in its Surface Go in order to balance performance and battery life. However, Intel stepped in and allegedly “petitioned Microsoft heavily” to use its own low-power Pentium processors instead.
Microsoft has been adamant about allowing Qualcomm processors to fully function with its Windows 10 operating system, and has worked hand-in-hand with Qualcomm to enable x86 emulation. It would have made perfect sense for Microsoft to practice what it preaches with a Snapdragon-powered Surface Go. However, Intel has long expressed its disapproval of x86 emulation for ARM processors. Back in June 2017, the chip giant even threatened legal action:
There have been reports that some companies may try to emulate Intel’s proprietary x86 ISA without Intel’s authorization. Emulation is not a new technology, and Transmeta was notably the last company to claim to have produced a compatible x86 processor using emulation (“code morphing”) techniques. Intel enforced patents relating to SIMD instruction set enhancements against Transmeta’s x86 implementation even though it used emulation. Only time will tell if new attempts to emulate Intel’s x86 ISA will meet a different fate.
Intel has been relatively quiet on this front since it made that last threat; at least publicly. But it appears that Intel has been working behind the scenes to ensure that its chips are prominently placed in key product lines.
With that being said, performance of “Always Connected” Windows 10 PCs using Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 835 processor hasn’t exactly been “thrilling” at this point, and systems were initially limited to just 32-bit app compatibility within Windows 10. However, Qualcomm is targeting up to a 30 percent improvement in overall system performance with the upcoming Snapdragon 850 for Windows 10 PCs.
And looking forward, Arm has outlined its roadmap for future processor designs including Cortex-A76, Deimos and Hercules. Arm says that processors based on these designs will be able to compete head-to-head with Intel’s Core i5 U-Series processors.