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The 'cellular PC' revolution begins: full Windows 10 and desktop apps are coming to mobile ARM chips

Myerson Windows 10
Myerson Windows 10 (Image credit: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

Microsoft just dropped a tech bombshell in Shenzhen, China, at the 2016 WinHEC conference: Windows 10 for PC – the full desktop version – is coming to mobile ARM processors in 2017.

Calling them "cellular PCs", Microsoft has managed to get the x86 code for the Windows 10 OS running on the ARM architecture — a phenomenal technological achievement. Microsoft Executive Vice President Terry Myerson revealed the news at WinHEC, and shared on the Windows Blog:

To deliver on our customers' growing needs to create on the go with PCs with cellular connectivity, power-efficient battery life, and flexible designs, we announced today Windows 10 is coming to ARM through our partnership with Qualcomm.

Qualcomm and Microsoft ushering in a new age

The hardware required for Windows 10 on ARM starts with the recently announced Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 flagship SoC based on the 10nm FinFET process.

The new Snapdragon 835, which is already in production and expected in devices sometime in early 2017, features 27% higher performance while drawing 40% less power than the previous 14nm Snapdragon 820/821 SoCs.

The new silicon also features Quick Charge 4.0 tech, allowing for a five-minute charge to be enough for 4-5 hours of life for a phone, and up to 50% in 15 minutes.

Myerson made a point to tout the benefits of Windows 10 on ARM:

Hardware partners will be able to build a range of new thin, lightweight, power-efficient and always-connected Windows 10 PCs that run x86 Win32 and universal Windows apps

Full Access: x86 Win32 apps through emulation

It's not just the OS: Windows 10 on ARM will also run traditional x86 Win32 apps and games through emulation.

Users will be able to install any x86 Win32 app – unmodified – from any source, no repackaging as UWP or delivery via the Windows Store required. The apps are not sandboxed and they will have full access to the OS. Apple made a similar emulation feature when the Mac line switched from PowerPC to Intel processors, but Microsoft's move to support ARM is a magnitude more impressive.

To prove the power of the Snapdragon 835, Microsoft demoed a device easily running the full Adobe Photoshop app along with Microsoft Office. It's not just for apps either — the popular MMOG World of Tanks was demonstrated on stage being powered by ARM and Windows 10.

Managing data and eSIMs

Additionally, Windows 10 will gain support for so-called electronic SIMs (or eSIM). The eSIM technology lets users switch providers and plans without the hassle of getting a new physical SIM.

Carriers like AT&T, Etisalat, Deutsche Telekom, Orange, Vodafone, and Telefonica are a few examples in the US and Europe that are already using or adopting the tech.

The Windows Store will host these 4G LTE data plans, allowing users to purchase plans and manage their account without a clumsy browser or account login. Windows 10 for Desktop will also gain data management abilities for users to monitor and control what data channel apps use.

Coming in 2017

Microsoft expects new devices to run Windows 10 on the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 sometime next year and that they will leverage touch, pen, and Windows Hello.

Windows 10 on ARM will be available for Enterprise and Consumer editions.

Finally, these devices are anticipated to be tablets, two-in-ones, and Ultrabook-like devices. While smartphones with this tech might be in the wings, Microsoft's not dropping any hints on that front today.

Daniel Rubino
Executive Editor

Daniel Rubino is the Executive Editor of Windows Central, head reviewer, podcast co-host, and analyst. He has been covering Microsoft here since 2007, back when this site was called WMExperts (and later Windows Phone Central). His interests include Windows, Microsoft Surface, laptops, next-gen computing, and arguing with people on the internet.

220 Comments
  • What about phone class phones?
  • It will come logically. Today's smartphones are more powerful than desktop PCs a few years ago. You'll have everything in one device, only display size differs.  
  • That's not true. Today's smartphones are a lot slower than any PC from up to 10 years ago.  The "quad core" or "hexa core" doesn't mean nothing, they are power saving CPUs with a lot less power than PC CPUs. Even laptops that come with i7 are 30-40% slower than the oldest i7 chip.
  • I agree with you in general, but I have 5 or 6 year old Dell XPS tower with an i7 that is slower than my new Dell Precision M6700 laptop, also with an i7. This is as determined by calculating pi with the same utility on each computer. There was quite a difference in favor of the laptop. I don't have the clock speed or number of cores handy, but it could be the laptop version has more cores and a faster clock speed.
  • Plus, the optimization is not only in the GHz.
  • They will likely want to make sure this works as it should in the real world. Once ARM devices running full Win 10 and x86 Win32 apps have been put through It's paces by the general public, we will likely see a Win 10 PC phone near the end of 2018. Anything sooner than that and it will be a done deal on the phone front. Making sure that this works well is key to MS getting back into the smartphone business. I'm looking forward to a Surface branded Windows 10 cellular PC. With all the rumored and verified hype behind Redstone 2 & 3 we should see some some pretty amazing Mobile devices.
  • Totally agree to what you said. This shouldn't be a 'half baked' experience. If they are doing this, it has to be done perfectly otherwise it'll be an opportunity lost and Google's Chrome OS might beat Microsoft at their own game.
    .
    But knowing Satya Nadella, he is gonna make sure this will WORK.
    .
    consumers used to mock his 'mobile first and cloud first' idea and I'll be honest, i did too but this is a complete 180° he's pulled off and I'm loving it ! :)
  • This also indicates that Qualcomm has made the ARMs chips closer if not equivalent and in range of some Intel chips which then make's this possible.
  • Guys, when this comes to phones...are our Lumia 950 going to be supported?
  • Im guessing all new processors only
  • Yea they really should've mentioned that in the article /s
  • Im pretty sure that it hasn't been announced yet which devices will be supported
  • I just pray we don't get left behind again.
  • It's not "getting left behind" it's choosing to stay behind or not being able to move forward for any one of many possible reasons....I'm really glad I bought my 950 when I did because by the time this comes out on any sort of phone I will be ready to upgrade, I'm thinking in 2018 not 2017. I don't see how you could expect it to just work on much older hardware tbh
  • I phone has a Life cycle of around 2 years before you upgrade. If new tech after 2 years opens up the possibility for new features you are not been left behind just because your phone isn't getting those features! And any way! Windows 10 devices have some of the best support in the industry!
  • Demo show snadragon 820 and 4 gb ram. I am guessing ARM would need more than 2gb ram to run (because of emulation maybe). And besides if lumia 950 was to get this, all of the storage will be used up by windows OS. And i think it should be more than normal size  of windows. And 3rd thing is, "Finally, these devices are anticipated to be tablets, two-in-ones, and Ultrabook-like devices​" maybe its not coming for phones anyways.
  • Really! That's the Idol 4S Hardware! It's also got 64GB Internal Memory... Perhaps this will be one of the first devices to run full Windows! ^.^
  • @Dawood Ahmed; The Snapdragon 835 is a processor that will be in Android phones and will open the path for OEMs to build Windows( smartphones, tablets, and any device on up to the point if you need an Intel processor.
  • Does your current arm power device have a Qualcomm 835?
  • Well, you're sort of right since those devices don't exist yet.
    "The hardware required for Windows 10 on ARM starts with the recently announced Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 flagship SoC based on the 10nm FinFET process."
    I don't know what's so difficult about understanding that sentence.
  • yeah! but at the same time the demo they showed was running on a qualcomm SD 820 very smoothly. so why not give the 950/950xl proccessors the test too see!
  • Where did they mention it was an SD 820?
  • Watch the video. When he went to properties.
  • Cheers, have taken a look now.
  • And they only run certain softwares.  First, It is like Continuum and so nothing too surprising about smooth. He runs MS edge, films and tv, Photoshop, World of tanks Blitz and MS word. All these have a UWP version (except MS word) and MS word was available on ARM processors of Surface RT. I think these old processors cant emulate other programs very well. And new processors have something in the harware to make it possible. 
  • Watch the video, it was an SD20 device
  • "Poor" x3 owners ...
  • It says the new technology will require the new SnapDragon 835. So that's basically saying, this will only happen on new to-be-released phones with the SD835. Which makes sense, can't expect older hardware to efficiently run new groundbreaking software ability :p
  • I'm pretty sure
  • I'm pretty sure the Qualcomm 835 was specified
  • Video shows on a 820 though
  • IIRC they said its hardware based, which means its going to need the new snapdragon 835 chips and newer.
  • So funny.
  • Not likely, as they needed the newest ARM processor to make this happen. However, we may some new features that can be supported by current hardware. I'm not counting on x86 app virtualization on the 950 series. Then again, who knows what MS will do, when it comes to that. They have been working on refining Windows 10 to work on ARM. Maybe, just maybe...they will allow something to work. Only time will tell.
  • ITS ALREADY SAYS 835 not 821 and below, if you cant understand that then you NEED to buy a DUMBPHONE
  • Someone didn't bother to watch the video...
  • Stupid comment from a reader. Watch the ******' video dummy.
  • Thank God I didn't buy the 950xl I was considering. I'll hold on to my 640xl till the Snapdragon 835 phone arrives.
  • You can wait for a very very long time now. A 950 is a perfect buy right now.
  • Kenzibit, Funny! You know your not getting supported. its another "retrench". Microsoft and Nadellas nice catchphrase for REBOOT! AGAIN.....
  • Does your 950 have the new Qualcomm 835 inside?
  • @kenzibit; The article did state "Qualcomm Snapdragon 835".
  • I think Microsoft will concentrate on this ARM version for Surface Mobile and Windows 10 Mobile will be used by other OEMs for regular smartphones. I hope Microsoft will improve all versions (x86, ARM, ARM Mobile) equally.
  • if u havent realized, after years, microsoft is switching from the phone form factor to more moblie
  • Wow. Good number of article updates from WC came through. All of them great news
  • Holy ****!
  • you can say that again
  • Holy crap! 
  • Holy ****! There, i said it for all fans. Haha.
  • OMFG!!!! This can't be real. DAT SURFACE PHONE IS COMING!!!
  • If I can get a Surface Phone/Device that looks like the tablet/phone the engineers use on Westworld, that's all I'll need. 
  • You should think bigger.  I see a world where everyone is wearing a Hololens or similar device rather than carrying a tablet/phone around.
  • Believe me, when that time comes, i'll be ready, but in the meantime...
  • Bang! Right on the money. Display will mean glasses, computer will mean phone and input devices will be voice and hands.
  • OMG, DAMNnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn
  • I'll come back to a Windows phone once this happens. Been a long break..
  • From a Cowboys fan, "We'll leave the door open for ya!"
  • Hope to see ARM tablets with Windows 10.
  • I guarantee this will replace the base model Surface Pros in the Future
  • Yeah ironically we'll probably see the return of the Surface RT in the future. That being said, I'd personally still rather have an Intel Atom powered surface but since Intel is gutting their Atom line of chips, I guess ARM is the only place to go for the low end. I wonder how this will affect the HoloLens going into the future since it's also powered by Intel's Atom chip?
  • That is an incredibly good question!!
  • Well, it's Surface RT but not really Surface RT...  The ability to run x86 apps makes a world of difference! And yeah, I had the same thoughts about what would happen to the Hololens.  Since it's a special Atom chip, maybe Intel would continue to produce for Microsoft?
  • Excellent question! Btw. as far as I remember, Intel only dropped the SKUs aimed at mobile. They left the door open for tablets running Atom so it is not totally out of the question that an Atom based tablet could be released. But this gives us and OEMs more choice and that is a good thing.
  • Remember HoloLens is a mobile device, it has the same goals as smartphones from a performance and battery consumption point of view. So Qualcomm's integration goals perfectly match HoloLens' goals. HoloLens is built on two parts.
    ​First is the software, Windows Holographic, which are libraries and services for real-world & user understanding. Basically processing the sensors data to provide higher level room meshes, gestures recognition, anchored positionning,... This is probably mostly C++ and C# code, and should be ported to ARM without too much trouble.
    ​Second is the hardware, and as they only support UWP apps for now, the CPU isn't very important. The HPU and sensors are the big investment there, it does the heavy lifting (offloading the positionning and regognition from the CPU), and they can probably just as easily be connected to an ARM CPU. ​HoloLens v2 probably will use an updated version of their HPU, and use ARM64 as its CPU, this could provide improved battery life and better mobile integration (Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, cell integrated), which also helps with miniaturisation. They don't even need to include the x86 compatibility emulation as running native ARM64 UWP apps is perfectly acceptable and probably better for performances and battery life.
    ​So if anything, having a 64-bit Windows running on ARM is probably a good thing for HoloLens' future, as well as for every future stand-alone Windows Holographic headsets (like Intel Alloy), and later, holographic smartglasses.
  • Actually, Intel will be stepping up their act as well. That Surface Pro could be sporting a very powerful Intel processor.
  • Hope they'll also allow ISVs to provide ARM versions of desktop apps if they want to to avoid emulation overhead, probably improving battery life and performances.
  • Cross compiling for ARM might not even be necessary if your Win32 app is built on the .Net Framework and you compiled for AnyCPU. Thanks to the JIT compiler, it might work fantasically right out of the box!
  • So they will abandon old customers again.
  • Yup, this worked already on the Surface RT.
  • Just use the UWP model then? Win32 was only ever able to be compiled for x86 (purely a rules thing, not an actual technical limitation)
  • I don't see any reason not to allow ARM compilation of Win32 desktop app with a compiler update.
    I'm already cross-compiling and distributing different versions for x86 and x64, and used to also provide IA64... not to mention the number of different CPUs I used to compile for for my Windows CE software, also Win32. Providing native ARM would be very easy if they just unlock the compiler and support it in MSI.
  • You could already compile WIn32 Apps for ARM and run on Surface RT.
  • Not true, a number of architectures have been supported over the years including DEC Alpha and Itanium. I think there was even a Mips version at one point.
  • For anyone curious... Windows NT 3.51 and 4.0 were running on x86, Alpha, MIPS and PowerPC.
    ​Newer versions dropped support for these alternative architectures when they became less relevant, but gained IA64 (Itanium) and x64 (AMD64).
    A64 also became irrelevant, but more recently they added ARM32 and apparently soon ARM64.
    This is all thanks to the original portable design of NT, which probably helped for the Xbox 360 (PowerPC-based), and ARM support time-to-market. Windows CE has been running on x86, ARM32, ARM32 Thumb, StrongARM/XScale, SH3, SH4 (SuperH), MIPS (3000 & 4000), PowerPC.

    ​So yeah, Win32 definitely isn't limited to x86.
    NT is designed for portability, and the API itself isn't architecture-dependent and can even be implemented on another kernel, Windows 9X and Windows 3.x+Win32s were originally running the Win32 API on top of MS-DOS, and Windows CE basically has a Win32-based kernel instead of the specific NT Native API one.
  • You forgot Windows 8 RT. It has all the necessary Win32 libs onboard. With a little hack on the compiler side (because it was never officially supported by MS) you could compile Win32 Apps for ARM with a simple button press. And of course .Net app with "CPU any" directly run under Windows 8 RT (provided they do not use WPF). 
  • Didn't forget it, Windows RT 8.x is the consumer name for Windows NT running on ARM32.

    Unfortunately it probably won't be compatible with these new Windows 10 ARM devices even if they remove the signature check in the loader, because it was 32-bit while the new one is 64-bit (running on ARM64). Applications compiled for 64-bit Windows on ARM64 (new Windows 10 devices) won't run on 32-bit Windows on ARM32 (old Windows RT devices). And unless ARM64 CPUs have ARM32 compatibility and Windows 10 has a layer like WOW64 to support binaries for that target, 64-bit Windows on ARM64 won't be able to run 32-bit applications compiled for ARM32. This is very unlikely to happen as such a layer not only requires a development effort only to support applications that were officially not supported on Windows RT, but also because it increases the size of the OS by having 32-bit versions of most system binaries.
  • And Apple is sitting dead in the water! LOL
  • really? haven't you read?? They have a touchbar!!
  • It's funny, I've heard some call that touchbar "revolutionary".  Uhmmm, the whole OLED screen on my new laptop is touch enabled!
  • Judging by the sales figures, apple is doing JUST FINE. This is all talk...just like ALOT of things from the Nadella led team.
  • While sales wise, they are doing just fine, but on the technological innovation side of things, they have a lot of catching up to do. People GENERALLY buy what they're convinced to buy or are used to using. If the commercial makes it look great, then they're going for it. We will see how things pan out shortly with this ARM and full Windows thing. I for one can't wait either way!
  • @Steve You mean on phones. Everything else Apple is down. Their watch sales are even >50% down. And it will get worse and worse in 2018. Be prepared to defend Apple a lot more in the future :)
  • Yes, It has BEGUN, the death of Windows Phone has been greatly exaggerated!!
  • Lol Windows Phone will remain dead. ARM chips can't run x86 Windows Programs.
  • I guess in your eagerness to post a snarky comment, you skipped reading the article eh.
  • I guess you didn't either? Or you don't know what emulation means?
  • These apps definitely need emulation but kernel on both devices is same so only user-mode emulation is required and user-mode emulation have very less impact on performance or they can use binary translation at installation time, in that case there will be no performance overhead at all at run-time
  • Installation time translation works only if MS controls the installation, which isn't true on desktop. Anywho, will be interesting to see how well it works, and if it will bring better 8" devices (or other).
  • Emulation or not it can still do it. My Xbox one runs 360 games on it by emulation and I can't tell the difference by sight. By your logic my Xbox one can't play 360 games. Different ways to do it, same end result.
  • Technicality...  But if the experience to the user is transparent, what difference does it make???
  • You've official won retard of the day award
  • Well I still don't have a perpetual degree in that like you but I'll make an effort to reach your level.
  • DJCBS, guess you didnt watch the video of Full x86 Adobe running on an a SnapDragon.. Let me help you out with an example, My Xbox One runs Xbox 360 games through EMULATION just as good as my PowerPC enabled Xbox 360...hope that helps
  • Don't bother trying. DJCBS had always had some sort of blinded hatred for either MS or at the very least, WP/Win10m. You can place all the evidence infront of him and he'll brush it away with a ignorant biased "it'll never work" even if there's evidence it does work. Let him enjoy having a biased ignorant view. Doesn't effect anyone else. Also DJCBS last year you bet with me that MS would have gutted and stopped Win10Mobile development by now. You going to admit you was incredibly wrong? Or you gunna renew that bet for another year? :)
  • Now that you mentioned emulation on the XBOX One, I'm wondering if that was the stepping stone to what we're hearing now.
  • Whatever your weird beliefs are, they are rendered moot by both the article and the video above. Apparently Microsoft isn't as narrow-minded as you, thankfully, and have indeed achieved running full x86 programs on ARM.
  • ignorance is bliss I suppose.
  • QuickCharge 4!? I can't be buying new ones all the time.
  • yes you can, I know you can! :)
  • Heh. 800$ Surface Phone, 300$ for 10 new chargers, Satya smiling from ear to ear, priceless
  • sell a kidney and a lung? ;)
  • You in the market?
  • no, looking to sell mine too for the goodies that are coming ;)
  • Anyone else remember this old Building Windows 8 blog post? (Written by our old friend Steven Sinofsky in 2012 of Surface RT infamy) https://blogs.msdn.microsoft.com/b8/2012/02/09/building-windows-for-the-... ... This was before "Windows on ARM" was renamed to "Windows RT" and the announcement of the Surface RT. Running Windows on ARM has been in the works, and in the wild on the Surface RT and other devices, for a long, long time. Good stuff.
  • Hope price of Windows with arm PCs is comparable to chrome books
  • Microsoft makes free Windows 10 and versions of Office available to OEMS for devices under 10" and there are larger devices similarly priced so it's safe to say someone will.
  • Oh my god!!! Is this the real life?
  • Windows RT has returned!
  • Now all that's left to do is incorporate this into Windows 10 Mobile and launch a Surface Phone that contains a true Windows 10 desktop.
  • This sounds nuts but I'm looking forward to what comes from it, whoa.
  • I can't wait for reasonable prices on windows 10 phone. Kind of tired paying $850+ for my idevice. 
  • I mean it will still be just as expensive if not more since you'd be paying for full windows 10 licensing and a bigger hard drive.
  • Oooh. Could we see Surface 4 with this?
  • I wish some developer could find a way to showcase big windows on a phone just to give us an idea even if Microsoft secretly paid them under the table to do it lol
  • I must say I normally hold myself back from commenting or sharing my thoughts to the world but I feel the urge of doing so at this moment after reading and watching the article and video especially to address Microsoft and the technology world. My comment may sound extreme and exaggerated but this is my personal opinion and insight in general.   
    I'm extremely ecstatic and blown away by the technology Microsoft has developed and will develope in the future. They've shown to the world their true potential with everything they have now and more in the future. I believe and admire Samsung, Apple, Google, and other tech companies of their potential, innovation, as well as their commitment as they're admirable companies. With Microsoft, I also feel the same way but at a much passionate and higher level of admiration and trust that they will lead the way. Even though the technology we have now is already truly amazing, it's really only scratching the surface and I can't wait for these companies to keep pushing boundaries! Technology is truly life changing and thanks to the like of all these technology company, life continues to prosper, grow, evolve, and change for the better. Kudos to everyone! -C
  • Mind = blown.
  • The question is will it run Battlefield 1?
  • Or World of Warcraft?
  • theoretically it should but the power both of them need is a bit higher compaired to World of Tanks I suppose.
  • The demo in the video used the Snapdragon 820 and not the 835, unless my eyes have deceived me.
  • I noticed that too but since it's only in production, I think the OS doesn't recognize the newer version/name of the chip... Unless I'm wrong, I'm even more exciting but afraid not :)
  • Just because they used the 820 for testing purposes doesn't mean they will allow any devices older than the 835 to use windows 10 on arm.
  • Microsoft is demoing it in the video on an 820 and the HP Elite x3 has the Qualcomm MSM8996 Snapdragon 820... Sure would be nice is they throw Insiders a bone and curious how it would preform (if it can) on a Snapdragon 810 for the 950XL.
  • Don't forget they are talking about tablets, laptops etc. at this point. If it comes to Mobile phones (when it does) there needs to be a way to run the W10 Mobile OS when not connected to a display. A phone running the PC Desktop at all times would be crap.
  • I'm really excited about this news, but just a little skeptical about the performance though :-( Will this really perform like say, a Core M3 at least?? Or will this just be another slightly-better-than-Atom-like performance? If it performs as well as a Core M3, at a fraction of the price, it is a true game-changer!!
  • When running native code (e.g. ARM code) these devices should perform somwhere between the fastest Atoms and Core M3...most likely very close to M3. In emualtion mode they should be quite a bit slower than Atom of course. Thing is of course, that emulation is just an enabler. More and more programs will be available as native ARM apps over time.
  • Native ARM apps in Windows 10 is UWP apps though, for most of us (I know you can compile ARM native code and using W10 api for ui etc but who want to go there)
  • I am afraid that the demo is an terminal emulation, with a stronger pc remotely behind. The Elite x3 provide such service.