Rumor: Microsoft Working on x86 Emulation for ARM64

Subject: General Tech | November 25, 2016 - 12:01 PM |
Tagged: x86, windows 10, microsoft, arm

According to Mary Jo Foley at ZDNet, Microsoft is working on emulating the x86 instruction set on ARM64. Her sources further claim that this is intended to be a Windows 10 feature that is targeting Redstone 3, which is the feature update expected in late 2017 (after the upcoming Creators Update in early 2017). Of course, Microsoft will not comment on this rumor. Mary Jo Foley is quite good at holding out on publishing until she gets multiple, independent sources, though. Still, projects slip, pivot, and outright die all of the time, even if the information was true at one point.

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Media Center is still dead, though.

So, while keeping in mind that this might not be true, and, even if it is, it could change: let’s think.

The current speculation is that this might be aimed at enterprise customers, including a potential partnership with HP and Qualcomm. This makes sense for a few reasons, especially when you combine it with Microsoft and Samsung’s recent efforts to port .NET Core to ARM. Combining rumors like this might be akin to smashing two rocks together, but you never know if it’ll spark something. Anyway, you would expect these sorts of apps could jump architectures fairly well, because they’re probably not real-time, form-based applications. You might be able to get a comfortable enough user experience, even with the inherent overhead of translating individual instructions.

Another possibility is that Microsoft hasn’t given up on the Windows 8 / Windows RT vision.

Back in that era, the whole OS seemed designed to push users toward their new platform, Metro. The desktop was an app, and that app contained all of the Win32 bits, isolating them from the rest of the PC and surrounding that tile with everything WinRT. The new platform was seductive for Microsoft in a few ways. First, it was more secure, and people considered Windows the operating system that’s plagued with malware. Second, it let them assert control over their apps, like Apple does with their App Store. At the time, they even demanded that third-party web browsers be nothing more than re-skins of Internet Explorer. Firefox? Don’t even think about bringing Gecko in here. It’s Trident or bust.

Say what you like about those first two points, I know I have, and often disapprovingly from an art enthusiast standpoint, but there was a third one that also interested Microsoft:

Hardware independence.

The WinRT runtime, when it was first unveiled, was pretty much designed in a way that Microsoft could swap out everything underneath it if they wanted to jump ship and move to a new architecture. At the time, almost a decade ago, Intel wasn’t competitive against ARM in the mobile space. This kept Windows applications, and Microsoft, watching the rest of the world sail away.

But supporting both ARM and x86 isn’t good enough. What if IBM wins next time? Or a completely different instruction set? If everything calls an API that can be uprooted and transplanted elsewhere? There will never need to be this mobile concern again.

But then we have this whole decades of stuff that already exists problem. While I don’t like the frog boil analogy, it could be Microsoft’s attempt to uproot enough x86-locked content that people can accept UWP. I’m not sure that will work out, especially since we rely upon real-time software that is not accepting Windows Store, but it might be their goal.

What do you all think?

Source: ZDNet

WoW, Microsoft is back in the porting business again. x86 to ARM expected with Redstone 3

Subject: General Tech | November 22, 2016 - 05:34 PM |
Tagged: CHPE, arm, x86 emulator, x86, windows 10, redstone 3

We haven't seen Windows 10 Redstone 2 yet but already we have some news about Redstone 3 which hints at the coming of the Surface phone.  Microsoft is working on x86 emulation for ARM processors, allowing proper Windows programs and not just Universal Apps to work on ARM based machines.  They pulled this off in the past with the switch from 32bit to 64bit applications, with Windows on Windows emulation and porting x86 to ARM and vice versa has been a long term project at Microsoft. 

The possible issue that comes from this eventuality is the interface.  Just like in a game ported from a gaming platform to PC, moving from an ecosystem with a limited input device to a platform designed with a mouse and keyboard will cause issues.  The reverse tends to be worse, for instance Skyrim's abysmal inventory system exists specifically because it was planned to be released on consoles.  Now imagine Excel or file management software trimmed down and designed specifically to run on a phablet, as well as on a PC.  For more on this possible nightmare, check out The Inquirer.

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"According to Mary-Jo Foley, the font of all knowledge Windows-wise, the company is looking at x86 emulation for ARM processors. It’s not a new idea, but it's looking likely for Redstone 3."

Here is some more Tech News from around the web:

Tech Talk

Source: The Inquirer

The Intel SMM bug is bad, but not that bad

Subject: General Tech | August 7, 2015 - 05:31 PM |
Tagged: fud, security, Intel, amd, x86, SMM

The SSM security hole that Christopher Domas has demonstrated (pdf)  is worrying but don't panic, it requires your system to be compromised before you are vulnerable.  That said, once you have access to the SMM you can do anything you feel like to the computer up to and including ensuring you can reinfect the machine even after a complete format or UEFI update.  The flaw was proven on Intel x86 machines but is likely to apply to AMD processors as well as they were using the same architecture around the turn of the millennium and thankfully the issue has been mitigated in recent processors.  Intel will be releasing patches for effected CPUs, although not all the processors can be patched and we have yet to hear from AMD.  You can get an over view of the issue by following the link at Slashdot and speculate on if this flaw was a mistake or inserted there on purpose in our comment section.

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"Security researcher Christopher Domas has demonstrated a method of installing a rootkit in a PC's firmware that exploits a feature built into every x86 chip manufactured since 1997. The rootkit infects the processor's System Management Mode, and could be used to wipe the UEFI or even to re-infect the OS after a clean install. Protection features like Secure Boot wouldnt help, because they too rely on the SMM to be secure."

Here is some more Tech News from around the web:

Tech Talk

Source: Slashdot

CES 2015: Intel Compute Stick Runs Windows for $149

Subject: Systems, Shows and Expos | January 7, 2015 - 05:56 AM |
Tagged: x86, Raspberry Pi, Intel, compute stick, chromecast, ces 2015, CES, atom

The Chromecast (and its open siblings) and the Raspberry Pi are interesting devices because they shrunk our concept of a compute device, which put them into new roles. Whether it is streaming media to your TV or controlling electronics on a high altitude balloon, you can use a full computer to do it. Full computers in new roles sound exactly like something Intel wants to research into lately.

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The Intel Compute Stick, aptly named, seems to fit somewhere between these two devices. It is an HDMI dongle enclosing an x86, quad-core, computer with 2GB of RAM and 32GB of internal storage. Intel eventually plans to have the device powered by the HDMI port, but it currently requires power over micro USB. Besides power, it also has a standard USB (Type A-Female) port and a micro SD card slot. It also has 802.11n wireless networking inside it. Being a full Windows device, you can stream media, browse the web, and use many other applications on it.

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The Intel Compute Stick with Windows will cost $149, which is significantly more than either a Chromecast or a Raspberry Pi. A Linux version, with 1GB of RAM (half of the Windows version) and 8GB of storage (a quarter of the Windows version), but at a significantly lower price of $89.

Coverage of CES 2015 is brought to you by Logitech!

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Source: Intel

Rumor: AMD Could Power Nintendo's Next Console

Subject: General Tech, Processors, Systems | December 23, 2014 - 09:07 AM |
Tagged: x86, Nintendo, arm, amd

The tea leaves that WCCFTech have been reading are quite scattered, but they could be right. The weaker half is pulled from an interview between Shigeru Miyamoto and the Associated Press. At the very end, the creator of many Nintendo franchises states, “While we're busy working on software for the Wii U, we have production lines that are working on ideas for what the next system might be.”

Of course they do. That is not confirmation of a new console.

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Original Mario Bros. Screenshot Credit: Giant Bomb (Modified)

A bit earlier, he also states, “I think that maybe when we release the next hardware system, you can look forward to seeing Mario take on a new role or in a new game.”

This, on the other hand, sounds a little bit like they are iterating on game design ideas that will shape the next console. From what I understand, this is how Nintendo tends to work – they apparently engineer hardware around concept use cases. It could also be a mistake.

The rumor's stronger half is a statement from Devinder Kumar, the CFO of AMD.

“I will say that one [design win] is x86 and [another] is ARM, and at least one will [be] beyond gaming, right,” said Devinder Kumar, chief financial officer of AMD, at the Raymond James Financial technology conference. “But that is about as much as you going to get out me today. From the standpoint [of being] fair to [customers], it is their product, and they launch it. They are going to announce it and then […] you will find out that it is AMD’s APU that is being used in those products.”

So AMD has secured design wins from two companies, one gaming and the other is something else. Also, one design will be x86 and the other will be ARM-based. This could be an awkward co-incidence but, at the same time, there are not too many gaming companies around.

Also, if it is Nintendo, which architecture would they choose? x86 is the common instruction set amongst the PC and other two consoles, and it is easy to squeeze performance out of. On the other hand, Nintendo has been vocal about Apple and the mobile market, which could have them looking at ARM, especially if the system design is particularly abnormal. Beyond that, AMD could have offered Nintendo an absolute steal of a deal in an effort to get a high-profile customer associated with their ARM initiative.

Or, again, this could all be coincidence.

Source: WCCFTech

Intel to Merge PC and Mobile Businesses

Subject: General Tech, Processors, Mobile | November 20, 2014 - 12:36 AM |
Tagged: x86, restructure, mobile, Intel

Last month, Josh wrote about Intel's Q3 earnings report. The company brought in $14.55 billion USD, of which they could keep $3.31 billion. Their PC group is responsible for $9 billion of that revenue and $4.12 billion of that profit, according to the Wall Street Journal. On the other hand, their mobile division is responsible for about $1 million – and it took over a billion to get that million. This has been the trend for quite some time now, as Intel pushes their square battering ram into the mobile and tablet round hole. Of course, these efforts could benefit the company as a whole, but they cannot show that in a quarterly, per-division report.

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And so we hear rumors that Intel intends to combine their mobile and PC divisions, which Chuck Mulloy, an Intel spokesperson, later confirmed in the same article. The new division, allegedly called the “Client Computing” group in an internal email that was leaked to the Wall Street Journal, will handle the processors for mobile devices but, apparently, not the wireless modem chipsets; those will allegedly be moved to a “wireless platform research and development organization”.

At face value, this move should allow Intel to push for mobile even more aggressively, while simultaneously reducing the pressure from investors to give up and settle for x86 PCs. Despite some differences, this echos a recent reorganization by AMD, where they paired-up divisions that were doing well with divisions that were struggling to make a few average divisions that were each treading water, at least on paper.

The reorganization is expected to complete by the end of Q1 2015, but that might not be a firm deadline.

Source: WSJ

JavaScript Is Still Getting Faster...

Subject: General Tech | September 19, 2014 - 06:08 AM |
Tagged: asm.js, simd, sse, avx, neon, arm, Intel, x86

The language that drives the client-side web (and server-side with Node.js) is continually being improved. Love it or hate it, JavaScript is everywhere and approaching native execution performance. You can write it yourself or compile into it from another, LLVM-compatible language through Emscripten. In fact, initiatives (like ASM.js) actually prefer compiled code because the translator can do what you are intending without accidentally stepping into slow functionality.

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Over at Microsoft's Modern.IE status page, many features are listed as being developed or considered. This includes support for Mozilla-developed ASM.js and, expected to be included in ECMAScript 7th edition, SIMD instructions. This is the one that I wanted to touch on most. SIMD, which is implemented as SSE, AVX, NEON, and other instruction sets, to perform many tasks in few, actual instructions. For browsers which support this, it could allow for significant speed-ups in vector-based tasks, such as manipulating colors, vertexes, and other data structures. Emscripten is in the process of integrating SIMD support and the technology is designed to support Web Workers, allowing SIMD-aware C and C++ code to be compiled into SIMD.JS and scale to multiple cores, if available, and they probably are these days.

In short, it will be possible to store and process colors, positions, forces, and other data structures as packed, 32-bit 4-vectors, rather than arbitrary objects with properties that must be manipulated individually. It increases computation throughput for significantly large datasets. This should make game developers happy, in particular.

Apparently, some level of support has been in Firefox Nightly for the last several versions. No about:config manipulation required, just call the appropriate function on window's SIMD subobject. Internet Explorer is considering it and Chromium is currently reviewing Intel's contribution.

Source: Modern.IE

Centaur Technology Extends Their Website Countdown...

Subject: General Tech, Processors, Mobile | September 10, 2014 - 12:38 AM |
Tagged: x86, VIA, centaur technologies

In early July, we reported on VIA's Centaur Technology division getting a new website. At the time, we anticipated that it would coincide with an announcement about Isaiah II, their rumored to be upcoming x86-based SoC (maybe even compatible with ARM, too).

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Fifty-one days later, on August 31st, 2014, we came back at quarter-to-four EDT and let the website run its course, refreshing occasionally. 4 PM hit and... the counter stayed at 0 days, 0 hours, 0 minutes, and 0 seconds. Okay, I said. For about an hour, I refreshed occasionally because things could have happened on Labour Day weekend. I, then, came back late in the evening, and the day after. I next thought about it the week after, at which point the website was updated... with a timer that expires on September 30th, 2014.

Well... crap.

So by the end of the month, we may find out what Centaur is trying to announce. I am a little less confident in the breadth of the announcement, given that the company waited for the timer to lapse before correcting their mistake. I would expect that if their big announcement, like a new SoC, were to hold up the launch, the company would have known ahead of time. At the moment, it sounds like a typical website redesign which got delayed.

I will hopefully be pleasantly surprised come the end of the month.

Toshiba Encore Mini Is Windows 8.1 for $119.99

Subject: General Tech, Systems, Mobile | September 6, 2014 - 10:03 PM |
Tagged: toshiba, tablet, cheap tablet, cheap computer, x86, Windows 8.1

While you should only get a cheap PC if you have a need for one, Toshiba is selling a $120 tablet with Windows 8.1 and a quadcore, Intel Atom processor. It also includes a single year of Office 365 Personal, which contains Word, Excel, Powerpoint, OneNote, Outlook, Publisher, Access, an 1TB of OneDrive storage (normally $69 or twelve installments of $7/mo).

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While RAM has not been announced, it contains 16GB of storage, expandable with a microSDXC card of up to 128 GB. It is based on a 7-inch, 1024x600 multi-touch display. Of course, 16GB of internal storage is about as low as you can have Windows 8.1 be installed within. In fact, it is the minimum requirements for 32-bit (64-bit requires 20 GB). You will not be fitting too many applications on your main drive.

The tablet also has a front-facing webcam and a back-facing 2 megapixel camera for photos and video.

The Toshiba Encore Mini is available now for an MSRP of $119.99.

Source: Toshiba

The Third x86-based SoC Player: VIA & Centaur's Isaiah II

Subject: General Tech, Processors, Mobile | July 11, 2014 - 08:58 PM |
Tagged: x86, VIA, isaiah II, Intel, centaur, arm, amd

There might be a third, x86-compatible processor manufacturer who is looking at the mobile market. Intel has been trying to make headway, including the direct development of Android for the x86 architecture. The company also has a few design wins, mostly with Windows 8.1-based tablets but also the occasional Android-based models. Google is rumored to be preparing the "Nexus 8" tablet with one of Intel's Moorefield SoCs. AMD, the second-largest x86 processor manufacturer, is aiming their Mullins platform at tablets and two-in-ones, but cannot afford to play snowplow, at least not like Intel.

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VIA, through their Centaur Technology division, is expected to announce their own x86-based SoC, too. Called Isaiah II, it is rumored to be a quad core, 64-bit processor with a maximum clock rate of 2.0 GHz. Its GPU is currently unknown. VIA sold their stake S3 Graphics to HTC back in 2011, who then became majority shareholder over the GPU company. That said, HTC and VIA are very close companies. The chairwoman of HTC is the founder of VIA Technologies. The current President and CEO of VIA, who has been in that position since 1992, is her husband. I expect that the GPU architecture will be provided by S3, or will somehow be based on their technology. I could be wrong. Both companies will obviously do what they think is best.

It would make sense, though, especially if it benefits HTC with cheap but effective SoCs for Android and "full" Windows (not Windows RT) devices.

Or this announcement could be larger than it would appear. Three years ago, VIA filed for a patent which described a processor that can read both x86 and ARM machine language and translate it into its own, internal microinstructions. The Centaur Isaiah II could reasonably be based on that technology. If so, this processor would be able to support either version of Android. Or, after Intel built up the Android x86 code base, maybe they shelved that initiative (or just got that patent for legal reasons).

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But what about Intel? Honestly, I see this being a benefit for the behemoth. Extra x86-based vendors will probably grow the overall market share, compared to ARM, by helping with software support. Even if it is compatible with both ARM and x86, what Intel needs right now is software. They can only write so much of it themselves. It is possible that VIA, being the original netbook processor, could disrupt the PC market with both x86 and ARM compatibility, but I doubt it.

Centaur Technology, the relevant division of VIA, will make their announcement in less than 51 days.

Source: 3d Center