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November 3, 2022

Arm processors will become mainstream for Windows in 2024 – Qualcomm CEO

Interest in Arm chips is growing from PC vendors, though they have a long way to go to challenge x86's dominance.

By Ryan Morrison

Arm-based processors will be widely available to power Windows PCs by 2024, predicts Qualcomm CEO Cristiano Amon, citing the innovations his company has made in adding advanced AI features to its Snapdragon silicon. Speaking on Qualcomm’s latest earnings call earlier today, Amon made no mention of the lawsuit with Arm over the licensing of its IP which has put the two long-time partners at loggerheads.

Qualcomm bases its processors on Arm-designed architecture and hopes to get it into more Windows devices from 2024 (Photo: Ralf Liebhold/Shutterstock)
Qualcomm bases its processors on Arm-designed architecture and hopes to get it into more Windows devices from 2024. (Photo: Ralf Liebhold/Shutterstock)

“We expect to see an inflection point in Windows on Snapdragon PCs in 2024,” he said during a call with analysts, adding that this is due to a “significant number of design wins to date” when it comes to the use of Snapdragon on Windows-based PCs.

Unlike Apple, which is using its own Arm-based processors to power its Macbook computers, Arm chips have yet to be as widely adopted by the Windows vendors, which typically deploy silicon running on Intel’s x86 architecture, but this is starting to change.

Qualcomm’s Arm-based chips are normally used in mobile devices, but earlier this year Lenovo produced its first ThinkPad powered by a Snapdragon chip running Windows. The Lenovo X13 includes a Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3 chip, thought to be the first time a Qualcomm processor has been used in a commercial windows laptop.

Amon didn’t elaborate on plans for Windows-based Arm machines, or give any indication of any vendors looking to offer it as a product, just that it will be more widespread from 2024.

Qualcomm earnings – a challenging 2023 ahead

Most of the earnings call, which came after the company reported Q2 revenue of $11.39bn, focused on how Qualcomm plans to weather a predicted difficult 2023, including a hiring freeze and reductions in certain areas of the business to reduce operating costs.

CFO Akash Palkhiwala says difficult global trading conditions, as well as continuing lockdowns in China due to Covid-19, will contribute to the predicted downturn in sales next year, which will be made worse by a glut of silicon inventory allowing device manufacturers to rely on backlog rather than purchase new chips.

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Some of the success this year has come from Apple turning to more Qualcomm 5G modems for its iPhones – going from about 20% of devices to “the majority”, according to Amon.

Other major growth areas for the chip giant were in Internet of Things devices and automation, with AI technology driving the push for its Snapdragon processors.

“We're driving the transformation of industries and growth of the digital economy by powering the billions of smart connected devices at the edge, utilizing our One Technology Roadmap with leadership in wireless connectivity, high-performance, low-power computing and on-device AI,” Amon told investors.

“While the semiconductor industry is being impacted by significant macroeconomic headwinds and other short-term challenges from which we're not immune, the fundamentals of Qualcomm's growth drivers remain unchanged with significant opportunities in the coming years.”

The quarterly revenue was largely driven by the chipset business and licensing, as well as record performance across handsets, automotive and IoT.

He warned they are prepared for a difficult 2023 and are ready to manage operating expenses if the downturn is worse than predicted, but didn’t go into details, explaining that “we are well on our way executing our growth strategy, and all the fundamentals remain in place”.

Arm Qualcomm lawsuit concerns linger

Amon didn't discuss the potential impact of the lawsuit with Arm which is suing the chip maker to try and stop it developing custom Arm processors using designs obtained through its acquisition of Nuvia for $1.4bn in 2021. Arm says Qualcomm has breached a licencing agreement by purchasing Nuvia and wants its designs destroyed. This would be a major blow to Qualcomm’s ambitions to bring Arm-based processors to the Windows market.

Nuvia was developing its own custom high-performance processor designs on the Arm architecture, meaning it has different licencing terms with Arm than Qualcomm – which deploys standard Arm designs in its chipsets rather than creating custom chips.

Arm says Qualcomm didn’t get the right to use the custom licences when it bought Nuvia as the licences expired at the point of purchase. The sale, Arm claims in its filing in Delaware, caused Nuvia to breach its licences, requiring Qualcomm and Nuvia to stop using them and destroy any Arm-based technology developed under those licences.

Read more: Google Cloud turns to Arm for data centre chips

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