Microsoft to join Apple’s Intel exodus?

APPLE MIGHT NOT be the only company set to jettison Intel’s processors. Microsoft has ported Windows 10 to its own chip architecture, giving Intel’s shareholders cause to be very nervous indeed.


Microsoft has been working on a processor architecture – E2 – for several years, but the project is receiving fresh attention with reports claiming the company has managed to port both Windows 10 and Linux onto the processors.


While the chips might not be destined to appear in PCs, they could play a role in a wide Windows ecosystem, experts said. “Microsoft has experience designing processors for specific applications, such as the SoCs for the Xbox,” said Shane Rau, research vice president for computing semiconductors at research firm IDC “The E2 experiment suggests that Microsoft is researching what would be an ideal processor architecture to run Windows and carry it to different kinds of systems,” Rau continued.


“Yes, maybe PCs, but more likely the very diverse world of endpoint and edge systems on the internet.” Microsoft has played down the breakthrough, which was reported in an article on The Register that cited sources close to the project.


Microsoft says: “E2 is currently a research project, with no plans to productise it.” While Intel’s short term prospects aren’t under immediate threat, it’s the long-term shift to a post-PC era that it should be worried about, according to Rau. “Technology vendors are exploring what kind of computing should be done, by what and where,” he said.


“I think that, within the PC space, Intel will lead for the foreseeable future. But the long-term question is where will computing be done if it is not done on the PC, and what will do the processing?” The E2 project has been conducted largely in secret and takes a fundamentally different approach to the way processors deal with data.


In traditional processors, instructions are fed into the system, split into cores and everything moves through as if on a conveyor belt, but instructions that rely on elements on other cores can be left waiting for other to be completed.


Under E2 – which relies on a technique called explicit data graph execution, or EDGE – the data instructions are split into micro projects that can each be handled in its own right without relying on information that could be gummed up in another part of the process.


“Achieving the right balance of power and performance for an application is challenging with today’s multicore processors,” read a now-archived version of the E2 project notes.


“E2 solves this problem by providing the capability for cores to dynamically adapt their resources during execution to provide highly efficient power and performance hardware configurations for a wide range of workloads.OS, which means some key business programs won’t run.


“This could indicate efforts by Google to broaden the addressable market for Chrome by piggybacking on Windows,” said Geoff Blaber, vice president for research at CCS Insight.


Given that Chromebooks can now access millions of consumer-focused apps – an area of weakness for Microsoft – a dual boot machine could prove interesting for one-device laptop owners.“In reality, this would be a niche, but it could be one worth addressing as Chrome begins to benefit from Android apps,” said Blaber.


“This would put Chrome in a position to target Windows’ ongoing weakness in consumer apps.” Google has so far declined to comment on its plans.

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