ARM vs x86/x64

I was recently asked a question about Windows 10. Microsoft is unifying the codebase between computers, laptops, tablets, and even smartphones to something more uniform across all devices. In the process we’re seeing Microsoft drop support for Windows RT, which runs on ARM-based hardware rather than Intel x86/x64 chips.

With Intel mobile procs getting almost as efficient as ARM, do you think the next Lumia will be an Intel phone?

This isn’t the first time that Microsoft will have unified to a single architecture. Way back in the days of Palm Sized PC and Handheld PC, OEMs built devices around various chips: ARM, SH3, MIPS.

Each of these chips had their own pros and cons, but it meant that the OS and every app you wanted to run had to be compiled for that particular chip. It was a pain! Eventually Microsoft settled on ARM – dropping support for the others.

ARM is a RISC processor – Reduced Instruction Set Computing. RISC is stereotypically built for small, lightweight, energy efficient code and devices.

x86 and x64 are CISC processors – Complex Instruction Set Computing. CISC used to be the exclusive realm for doing high-end, high-power computation. Believe it or not, we do a lot of what would previously have been called “complex instructions” on our “reduced instructions” mobile devices today.

The line between the two has been blurred. This has all be accomplished through very powerful libraries into which apps can “hook” – enabling our “reduced” handsets to function in “complex” ways. The question this raises is whether or not the energy advantages of a RISC processor are moot now that we’re effectively translating “complex” code to run on a “reduced” chip.

Focusing on a single architecture simplifies development, testing, and QA for the OS developer, the OEM, and software developers. It also provides a more consistent experience across platforms – something end-users highly desire.

Could the next Lumia be powered by an x86 or x64 proc? Absolutely! Should it be? There are many reasons to support that direction. Is it the right choice? That remains to be seen.

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