Microsoft Rebuilt Windows 11 Around AI and Arm Chips

Microsoft Rebuilt Windows 11 Around AI and Arm Chips

Microsoft has announced a significant overhaul of Windows 11, targeting improvements for Arm-based hardware and artificial intelligence (AI). The company’s new Copilot+ AI PC initiative, which features new Surface devices and partner systems equipped with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon X Elite chips, marks a pivotal shift in how Windows 11 interacts with Arm technology.

Historically, Microsoft’s efforts with Arm-based systems have been less than stellar. The 2012 launch of the Windows RT-powered Surface was a prime example of this struggle, as it failed to run legacy x86 applications and lagged behind PCs powered by Intel and AMD processors. Over the years, Windows on Arm saw gradual improvements, such as the serviceable emulation on the Surface Pro 9 5G, but these devices still couldn’t match their Intel counterparts, particularly in running popular applications like Chrome.

This time, Microsoft is confident that it has addressed these issues. The company has rebuilt essential components of Windows 11, including the kernel and compiler, and introduced a new emulator named “Prism” designed to run older x86 and x64 applications more efficiently. The reworked Windows 11 schedulers are optimized for Arm capabilities and AI workloads, complemented by a new driver compute model that treats neural engines similarly to CPUs and GPUs. These changes aim to make Arm hardware feel like a primary consideration rather than an afterthought.

Pavan Davuluri, Microsoft’s head of Windows and Devices, emphasized the importance of this optimization in a recent briefing with reporters. He explained that by building binaries and windows optimized for specific workloads, Microsoft could ensure substantial improvements in machine responsiveness and performance, particularly for users of Copilot+ PCs.

The Snapdragon X Elite chips, featuring a powerful new Neural Processing Unit (NPU), are central to these advancements. These chips can perform over 40 trillion operations per second, more than four times the AI performance of current AI PCs and twice the performance of Apple’s MacBook Air and MacBook Pro, according to Microsoft. This leap in processing power is expected to significantly enhance the user experience on Windows 11, particularly for AI-related tasks.

Despite the push for more native Arm applications, Microsoft acknowledges the continued importance of supporting older software. The Prism emulator has been improved to support a wider range of applications and is claimed to be around 20 percent faster than its predecessor. Microsoft stated that x86 and x64 applications running under emulation with the Snapdragon X Elite processors perform more than twice as fast as previous generations of Windows on Arm.

Beyond performance enhancements, the integration of the NPU enables Microsoft to introduce new AI-powered features to Windows. For instance, Recall is a feature that uses AI to retrieve almost anything a user has seen on their PC, akin to a photographic memory for the computer. Another feature, Live Captions, offers real-time translations from 44 languages into English across any video or audio playing on the PC.

Microsoft’s ambitious revamp of Windows 11 around AI and Arm chips reflects a determined effort to overcome past challenges and deliver a more robust and versatile operating system. With these enhancements, the company aims to provide a significantly improved experience for users of Arm-based devices, making Windows 11 a formidable player in the AI PC landscape.

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