Microsoft gives Windows new compiler, kernel, scheduler, and x86 translation layer on ARM

Microsoft’s developer conference Build is taking place this week, so there’s been some major Windows news and announcements, and for once – we’re not talking about more ads in your operating system, or even “AI” shoehorned into, I don’t know, Phone Dialer or Windows Fax and Scan.

First and foremost, Windows is going to get a new compiler, kernel, and scheduler, but despite such massive low-level changes, the marketing version number won’t jump from 11 to 12. Of course, we all know the marketing version number has nothing to do with the actual Windows NT version number, which currently sits at 10. The Windows NT version number, meanwhile, is actually also meaningless, since it magically jumps around left and right too, going from 6.2 to 10 between Windows 8.1 and Windows 10, where it has stayed ever since.

“We really focused on modernizing this update of Windows 11,” said Microsoft Corporate Vice President of Windows and Devices Pavan Davuluri at a technical briefing on Microsoft’s campus in mid-April. “We engineered this update of Windows 11 with a real focus on AI inference and taking advantage of the Arm64 instruction set at every layer of the operating system stack. For us, what this meant really was building a new compiler in Windows. We built a new kernel in Windows on top of that compiler. We now have new schedulers in the operating system that take advantage of these new SoC architecture.”

↫ Andrew Cunningham at Ars Technica

The focus is clearly on ARM here, which coincides with the launch of Qualcomm’s Snapdragon X Elite, a new SoC that finally seems to truly make ARM laptops that aren’t from Apple a real, competitive thing – so much so that Qualcomm is even breaking with tradition and taking Linux support very seriously for this new chip.

Microsoft also unveiled the name for its new x86 translation layer for Windows on ARM: Prism. Microsoft told Ars Technica that Prism is as fast as Apple’s Rosetta 2, which is interesting because Apple’s M series chips contain special silicon to speed up the translation process, making me wonder if Qualcomm has done the same, or is just brute-forcing it.

Performance like this means the apps customers love work great. Microsoft has partnered closely with developers across the globe to optimize their applications for this processor. In addition, the powerful new Prism emulation engine delivers a 2x performance boost compared to Surface Pro 9 with 5G. On the new Surface Pro and Surface Laptop, powered by Snapdragon X Elite and Snapdragon X Plus processors, experiences like Adobe Creative Cloud, Microsoft 365 and Chrome will feel snappy, quick and responsive.

↫ Pete Kyriacou on the Windows blog

The new Windows on ARM machines using the Snapdragon X Elite will be marketed under the new Copilot+ brand name, which brings with it some requirements, the biggest of which is the neural processing unit: it must be capable of at least 40 trillion operations per second. At the time of writing, the only Windows-capable processor that can boast such numbers is, of course, the new Snapdragon X Elite. AMD and Intel need not apply. They simply cannot match this.

Microsoft tied a bow on all this stuff by unveiling the new Surface Pro and new Surface Laptop, both powered by the new Snapdragon SoCs. You can preorder them today, but they won’t be available until 18 June.


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