MediaTek Wants a Piece of Windows on Arm

MediaTek
(Image credit: MediaTek)

After becoming one of the leading suppliers of system-on-chips for inexpensive Chromebooks, MediaTek wants to address the market of Windows on Arm PCs. To meet the performance expectations of Windows users, MediaTek plans to develop SoCs with enhanced CPU and GPU performance; the company reiterated this week.

"In CPU and GPU we are having to make some bigger investments as a foundational capability [for PC-oriented SoCs]," said Vince Hu, a corporate vice president of MediaTek at the company's event, reports PC World (opens in new tab).

MediaTek's Kompanio platforms for Windows on Arm PCs will include 'some of the technology' applied to high-end Dimensity SoCs for smartphones as well as 5G, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and even display driver ICs (DDICs) specifically designed for laptops, the company revealed.

The company's latest Dimensity 9200 (opens in new tab) SoC for smartphones features eight general-purpose CPU cores and an 11-cluster graphics processing unit with hardware raytracing support. The CPU department includes one Arm Cortex-X3 performance-enhanced core operating at 3.05 GHz, three Cortex-A715 high-performance cores at 2.85 GHz, and four Cortex-A510 energy-efficient cores. Also, the SoC is compatible with LPDDR5X-8533 memory.

By contrast, MediaTek's top-of-the-range Kompanio 1380 (opens in new tab) SoC for higher-end Chromebooks features four standard high-performance Arm Cortex-A78 cores at 3.0 GHz, four standard energy-efficient Arm Cortex-A55 cores, 5-cluster Arm Mali-A57 graphics, and an LPDDR4X-2133 memory subsystem. However, the Kompanio 1380 is less capable than the Dimensity 9200, so MediaTek wants to enhance its PC SoCs before addressing Windows on Arm machines with them.

It is unclear whether MediaTek plans to use performance-enhanced Arm Cortex-X cores for its notebook SoCs or will develop its custom Arm-compatible cores like Apple. On the one hand, it is entirely logical for MediaTek to build custom high-performance cores if MediaTek plans to compete against Qualcomm's next-generation Snapdragon SoCs that will use custom cores from Nuvia. But on the other hand, this requires significantly more investments and effort than licensing high-performance out-of-box cores.

MediaTek has been gradually transforming itself from a developer of mainstream SoCs for consumer electronics and handsets to a supplier of premium application processors for advanced smartphones. As a result, it will be logical for MediaTek to start developing custom performance-enhanced IP in-house to differentiate from its rivals (most notably Qualcomm, Samsung, and Unisoc) and offer unique capabilities. However, it is unclear whether the company has such plans for now.

Anton Shilov
Freelance News Writer

Anton Shilov is a Freelance News Writer at Tom’s Hardware US. Over the past couple of decades, he has covered everything from CPUs and GPUs to supercomputers and from modern process technologies and latest fab tools to high-tech industry trends.

  • PlaneInTheSky
    Those mini PC running Windows on ARM are super interesting.

    They consume less power and are cheaper than Intel NUC. For about $200 you have a decent ARM mini PC.

    They're also great if you play cloud games.
    Reply
  • -Fran-
    I don't think Microsoft will want to do ARM, since Intel won't give them any money to develop stuff. Maybe MediaTek can get AMD to help and convince Microsoft to grow their ARM offering a bit more.

    No matter how efficient ARM is for mobile; if there's no software people can use, it's completely moot.

    Regards.
    Reply
  • JamesJones44
    -Fran- said:
    I don't think Microsoft will want to do ARM, since Intel won't give them any money to develop stuff. Maybe MediaTek can get AMD to help and convince Microsoft to grow their ARM offering a bit more.

    No matter how efficient ARM is for mobile; if there's no software people can use, it's completely moot.

    Regards.

    I wouldn't be so sure about that. MS has invested huge amounts of time and cash to make supporting ARM completely transparent for .NET. So much so you have to choice not to publish an app without ARM or x86_64 support.
    Reply
  • bit_user
    It is unclear whether MediaTek plans to use performance-enhanced Arm Cortex-X cores for its notebook SoCs or will develop its custom Arm-compatible cores like Apple.
    There's no way MediaTek is going to develop competitive cores, in-house. They're going to just use off-the-shelf ARM IP and will beat Qualcomm & Apple on pricing.
    Reply
  • bit_user
    -Fran- said:
    I don't think Microsoft will want to do ARM,
    Uh, but they did. They even went so far as to commission three generations (so far) of ARM-based SoCs from Qualcomm (SQ1, SQ2, and SQ3). You can read a review of the SQ3-based Surface Pro 9, here:

    https://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/microsoft-surface-pro-9-sq3-arm

    Or, you can run Windows 11 on a straight Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3-powered Lenovo laptop:

    https://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/lenovo-thinkpad-x13s

    -Fran- said:
    Maybe MediaTek can get AMD to help and convince Microsoft to grow their ARM offering a bit more.
    LOL, wut? Are you feeling alright?

    As for subsidizing Windows-on-ARM development, maybe something like that happened with Qualcomm, because there was some kind of exclusivity agreement between them and Microsoft that I gather has now lapsed.


    -Fran- said:
    No matter how efficient ARM is for mobile; if there's no software people can use, it's completely moot.
    Windows 10 had x86-32 emulation. In Windows 11, they extended that to now cover 64-bit x86 apps.

    So, your argument really only applies if someone relies on compute-intensive x86 apps that would bog down with a slight emulation penalty.
    Reply
  • cfbcfb
    From someone who has investigated using arm based devices as a daily driver, looking for the performance I like from an x86 machine and not having much of a requirement other than chrome or a chromium browser that takes ad blocking extensions.

    The mac mini is a great contender at the price. But you'll have to live with Mac OS inflexibilities (I REALLY want that top menu bar to disappear and never come back) or try to shoehorn linux into it.

    On the ARM side, the new microsoft windows/arm development tool is one of the faster options, and it's $600. Slower that the mac mini mentioned above by a good amount.

    RK3588 boxes are what you can find under $300, and they offer about the performance of a snapdragon 845 or 855 from years ago. My month or so with such a box that was $170 said that the performance just isn't even close to what I'd like.

    Electricity usage will become The Big Thing over the next 10 years, as the world struggles to get rid of fossil fuels. So there IS a market for this, it's just not developed yet. But it will. And the big players are all pouring as much electricity as they can into cpu's and gpu's, trying to one-up each other.

    Until I see better software options on a fast ARM machine for under $500, it won't really be for me. And I really don't care what the OS is, except for Mac OS. I wanted to love it, but nope. Linux, chrome os, windows are all good. Android would even do, if it allowed a right mouse click as the primary, had a desktop mode and wasn't Samsung. That's right. Most android loads only work with the left click, its baked into the kernel, and the right button does the "BACK" function. Pretty annoying if you're left handed.

    This might be where Windows on ARM finally solves an actual business problem. Lower electric usage for the same levels of performance. Unfortunately, even the fastest ARM boxes that are under $500 just aren't cutting it.

    Because up until now, saying "It's ARM....YAY! Are ya going to buy one?" didn't solve anyones problems. But "This will do the job with half the electricity" will solve a big growing problem.
    Reply
  • mbello
    Sorry to ruin it for you, but current ARM SBCs are neither lower power, cheaper or faster compared to Intel N5195/6005-based boxes.

    Right now on AliExpress for instance, the best value for money for a cheap-yet-viable low-end PC is the N5195-based GK3 Pro which can be bought for $120 complete with power supply, case, 8GB of RAM and 128GB SSD.

    Most ARM SBCs in that performance range sell for $150+ and that is just for the board. And you will have to deal with all sorts of driver problems because Rockchip and Mediatek suck in the software/driver department (at least on Linux which is what I care for).
    Reply
  • -Fran-
    JamesJones44 said:
    I wouldn't be so sure about that. MS has invested huge amounts of time and cash to make supporting ARM completely transparent for .NET. So much so you have to choice not to publish an app without ARM or x86_64 support.
    They did, yes. They crashed and burned previously with the initial Surface ARM variants.

    And they have no choice with dotNET, since it needs to run in their Azure Linux infrastructure and Linux supports, well, anything. It's way more nuanced than that and just because they need to make dotNET suck less, doesn't mean it translates directly to Windows or its entire ecosystem.

    bit_user said:
    Uh, but they did. They even went so far as to commission three generations (so far) of ARM-based SoCs from Qualcomm (SQ1, SQ2, and SQ3). You can read a review of the SQ3-based Surface Pro 9, here:

    https://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/microsoft-surface-pro-9-sq3-arm

    Or, you can run Windows 11 on a straight Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3-powered Lenovo laptop:

    https://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/lenovo-thinkpad-x13s
    I guess I should've been a tad more clear: "do ARM again".

    Having basic support so Windows just runs is not the same as pushing the whole ecosystem to run natively in it. Well, and enticing other software companies to support ARM as well.

    Can you even compile with ARM as a target using VS? I'm sure as hell the Intel compiler doesn't (there's an asterisk, but I won't go into that rabbit hole).

    bit_user said:
    LOL, wut? Are you feeling alright?

    As for subsidizing Windows-on-ARM development, maybe something like that happened with Qualcomm, because there was some kind of exclusivity agreement between them and Microsoft that I gather has now lapsed.
    Yes, I am feeling quite alright. Thanks for asking.

    That is how the ball gets rolling. I'm not saying anything alien or unheard of. MediaTek is just not big enough to move the needle with Microsoft.

    bit_user said:
    Windows 10 had x86-32 emulation. In Windows 11, they extended that to now cover 64-bit x86 apps.

    So, your argument really only applies if someone relies on compute-intensive x86 apps that would bog down with a slight emulation penalty.
    Emulation is iffy for complex applications. In either case, you're not wrong for the big majority of people. Then again, emulating removes the efficiency edge (quite) and at that point you may as well buy a regular X86 PC. It's not like X86 is that much terrible. The Apple SoCs are an anomaly, because of how the Apple ecosystem works.

    Regards.
    Reply
  • TerryLaze
    Intel has used ARM in their FPGAs for years and has used very early ARM chips in network cards and other stuff since the previous millenium...

    Also all of their FABs they are building now...the majority will be used for whatever the industry needs and that will be ARM to a large degree.
    So intel has all of the incentives to make more people use more ARM which includes making software make use of it.
    And no this is not shooting themselves in the foot because ARM is a supplement to big core CPUs at best.
    Efficiency is great and all, but if you need power you don't care about efficiency.

    They are talking about everything on the same chip even, so customers can pick and choose whatever they want.
    (If they can do multiple on the same chip they definitely can do each one separately)
    https://www.extremetech.com/computing/331740-intel-plans-to-license-cores-that-combine-arm-risc-v-and-x86
    There’s a connection between Intel’s aggressive foundry expansion and its plans to support multi-ISA manufacturing. Intel institutionally believes that its control of CPU manufacturing is vital to its own long-term success and profitability. Supporting multiple ISAs gives Intel the best chance of winning business from the widest range of customers.
    Reply
  • JamesJones44
    -Fran- said:
    They did, yes. They crashed and burned previously with the initial Surface ARM variants.

    And they have no choice with dotNET, since it needs to run in their Azure Linux infrastructure and Linux supports, well, anything. It's way more nuanced than that and just because they need to make dotNET suck less, doesn't mean it translates directly to Windows or its entire ecosystem.

    People building apps on .NET, the most popular windows development platform are likely going to leave that feature enabled. This will in itself increase app availability. When Apple did this the number of apps that supported both ARM and x86_64 exploded. You can't find an App for Mac that doesn't support both these days and it's only been 3 years.

    Mac is a much smaller market place, but your major applications will likely support both for Windows in the same amount of time (all MS products already do).
    Reply