Saturday, 07 July 2012 13:54

Windows RT ARM Driver Issues May Cause Problems With Manufacturing; Microsoft’s Surface Not Helping

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Microsoft’s Windows 8 (both Windows RT and Windows 8 for x86-64) is due to hit the market around November of this year and it has already caused a ton of controversy. But there is one that did not get a ton of press when it was announced that highlights a few issues with Windows that many are not anticipating. Around the first of July it was announced that HP would not be making an ARM based tablet for the next OS and we also know that Acer will probably not as well.

There was a lot of talk about this, but not much more than comments about x86 Vs ARM or how Microsoft had screwed its partners over by launching their own tablet. However, there is considerably more to it than just that and the back story also serves to highlight some of the potential pitfalls with the way business is done.

According to information available at the time of this article HP has a deal for all of its AMR based SOCs with Qualcomm. They purchase from them and are probably not looking to expand their suppliers right now. What we are hearing is that Qualcomm is having some issue with developing drivers for Windows RT. Because of this they might not be ready when the launch date arrives. This is still rumor and there is no confirmation from HP, Microsoft or Qualcomm about any of this, but it is interesting to see Microsoft using an nVidia Tegra 3 SoC instead of Qualcomm. Microsoft also has a deal with Qualcomm (they have been supplying Microsoft partners with SoCs for Windows Phone for a long time). Qualcomm is even listed as a launch partner with Microsoft for Windows Phone 8.

Now it also seems that Texas Instrument might also be having issues with Windows RT, again the likely culprit is drivers (we talked about this in our article on the limitations of ARM as a Server CPU article). nVidia on the other hand does not seem to have any of these issues. Of course they have been writing drivers for Windows for a very long time and have something of an edge on the competition. Because of this they have been able to quickly adapt their current driver model to Windows RT. You will probably notice that almost all of the Windows RT tablets that have been demonstrated are running nVidia’s Tegra 3. This situation might continue and also could be why Microsoft chose to push out the Surface in the first place. It is highly likely that when their partners complained about driver issues with their ARM solutions Microsoft turned to two companies that could get the job done.

These two companies would be Asus (in the form of Pegatron) and nVidia. Asus has a great partnership with nVidia as is seen by their use of Tegra in their Android Tablets (and even the Google Nexus 7). We imagine that this looked very attractive to Microsoft especially after Microsoft saw all of their partner designs. We can imagine seeing the lack of design submissions was enough to prompt Microsoft to act in this case. It was still a foolish move on the part of Microsoft as it decreases the incentive to produce a product instead of motivating companies to make one. Remember if Acer or HP wants to make one they have to pay for the licenses to develop their. The same thing is true for component drivers. The manufacturer pays Microsoft to include them in the OS or has to develop a driver profile for the specific hardware BOM (build of materials). This puts more financial burden on the manufactures so why would they bother when the margins will be slim on the product.

Instead we are seeing them focus on the x86 version of Windows 8 where they have more resources to put into development and which will have a larger margin as well. This is a smart move on their part not only because it saves them money in R&D to get Windows RT working, but also they do not have Microsoft to compete with right out of the gate (the x86 Surface will not be out until 2013). In the end the people to likely feel the impact the most is the consumer. Because Microsoft HAS to have a success with Windows 8 they decided to build their own tablet instead of assist their partners in creating a more diverse market for the product. Although I like nVidia I would prefer to see multiple products out at launch than just those with their Tegra 3 inside.

Our money is on the Arm based versions being very slow to adopt, while the x86 tablets and dual purpose ultrabooks (if they can bring the price down a little) show growth. At least until Qualcomm, TI and others overcome their driver hurdles. We also have a bad feeling that Windows 8 on the desktop will also not perform well simply because of the UI and that fact that many people do not want to learn a new way to do their work. We fully expect to see fixes, hacks and patches to bring Windows 8 back to the same look and feel that Windows 7 and XP have, if for no other reason than to help the sales numbers of those that do not want to leave the desktop behind.

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Read 3632 times Last modified on Saturday, 07 July 2012 14:17