Windows laptops and tablets have traditionally run on X86 processors from the likes of Intel and AMD. Microsoft tested with using ARM-based processors when it released the Surface RT and Windows RT in 2012 — and it cost the company profoundly.
The breakdown of the Surface RT was mostly due to software, though. The system could only operate a small subset of applications that had been compiled explicitly for it — and therefore you couldn’t just install Chrome or Photoshop, for example. It didn’t benefit that Microsoft’s marketing for the Surface RT was unsettling for many consumers.
Fast-forward to this date and Microsoft is willing to give ARM on laptops another try. But this time; you will be able to run any program you wish. Windows 10 for the ARM is officially arriving today; while Microsoft itself isn’t launching an ARM-based Surface device just yet; the company has partnered with the counterparts of HP to launch a new class of laptops that Microsoft officially brands as “Always Connected Devices.”
The promise of using ARM-based chips (and we’re mostly talking Qualcomm Snapdragon processors here); is that you’ll get the kind of user experience that you’ve become accustomed to from your smartphones.
That implies these devices will turn on almost immediately; feature wireless LTE connectivity and — maybe most importantly; offer the kind of battery life that’ll let you get through a day or two (and, in the future, perhaps a week) of work without having to recharge.
Ideally, of course, that’s exactly what users who really shouldn’t have to care about; which processors sit in their laptops will experience once the first ARM-based laptops go on sale. ASUS and HP, which both worked with Microsoft on bringing the first Windows 10 for ARM devices to market; both claim that their first entries into this market will offer over 20 hours of active-use battery life and close to 30 days of standby.
It’s interesting to see that; Microsoft is launching this platform without a flagship device in its own Surface lineup. Maybe it’s doing this to avoid any of the lingering confusion around the Surface RT; but the Microsoft team itself claims that it’s doing this because it wanted to work closely with its ecosystem partners to build; validate and harden this platform. Either way, I expect that we’ll see an ARM-powered Surface device in the not so distant future.