Intel warns over Snapdragon PC, Qualcomm responds

June 12, 2017 // By Peter Clarke
Intel has warned the world that if x86 emulation is used to enable the smooth running of Windows 10 on a non-x86 processor then law suits will likely result.

At the end of May at Computex in Taiwan Qualcomm said that Asus, Hewlett Packard and Lenovo would be the first three computer companies to bring out PCs powered by its Snapdragon 835 processor. The Snapdragon processors all comply with the ARM instruction set architecture rather than Intel's x86 instruction set architecture.

For the computer companies there are at least two benefits. The Snapdragon 835 is implemented on Samsung's 10nm FinFET process which provides for low power and Qualcomm can also supply the X16 LTE modem, which could supply gigabit connectivity. As a result, the three computer companies are all slated to produce sleek, thin and fanless PCs running Windows 10 later this year.

But this also strikes at Intel's heartland.

One might expect that Microsoft, Qualcomm and these computer companies would use the appropriate high-level language compilers to recompile a version of Microsoft Windows 10 for the ARM ISA that Snapdragon 835 implements. But Windows 10 is lot of code and probably a lot of legacy code and ad hoc bug fixes. Emulation of the x86 on the Snapdragon 835 would likely be an easier route. If the emulation is good then the Windows 10 for x86 should run at similar speed perhaps to the same software on a previous generation of hardware.

So is not so big a surprise that Intel said in a blog that there have been reports that some companies may try to emulate Intel's x86 ISA without Intel’s authorization.

"Intel invests enormous resources to advance its dynamic x86 ISA, and therefore Intel must protect these investments with a strong patent portfolio and other intellectual property rights."

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