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Microsoft is designing its own ARM-based processor for Surface and cloud servers

Updated on Monday, December 12 to include Intel’s statement.

Microsoft is working on designing its own custom processor for its products, according to a report from Bloomberg news. Details are scarce, but the report notes that the new processor Microsoft is working on is “in-house” and will use ARM-based designs. It could not only be used to power data centers, but also the Surface line of computers.

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Though Microsoft already worked with its partner Qualcomm on ARM-based processors for the Surface Pro X and other Windows 10 on ARM devices like the Galaxy Book S, this move also could signal another bigger shift away from depending on Intel’s processors and Qualcomm’s partnership.

Microsoft is not alone in making such a move. Apple recently proved that it could successfully shift away from relying on Intel’s line of processors in favor of its own in-house processor. In November, the iPhone maker announced the M1 CPU, in a new line of MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, and Mac mini models. That ARM-based M1 CPU has been praised for being more powerful, with longer battery life, too.

Previous Microsoft Surface products have all had chips from Intel and AMD. The exception is the Surface Pro X, which features the Microsoft SQ1 and SQ2 chip, which was co-engineered with help from Qualcomm. The Surface Laptop 3, meanwhile, featured a custom “Surface Edition” AMD Ryzen chip.

Intel’s Xeon chips power most data centers. AMD dipped into the server market, too, with its EPYC lineup of processors.

Even if the ARM-based chip Microsoft is working on is powerful enough, Microsoft would have its work cut out for itself in shifting to its own custom ARM-based processor, mainly due to issues with the software.

Apple depends on the Rosetta 2 emulation to power certain apps that are designed for traditional MacBooks with Intel processors and not yet updated for the M1 chip. Microsoft only recently tweaked Windows 10 to support both 64-bit and 32-bit applications, and it is still in beta testing. Reports have also shown that Windows 10 performs better on Apple’s M1 Macs running under emulation than when it runs natively on devices like the Surface Pro X.

Intel has released a statement on the matter to Digital Trends, reaffirming its commitment to both x86 systems and new markets like self-driving cars: “The incredible demand for computing fueled by new workloads like AI is driving more silicon experimentation in the cloud. Building on decades of x86 ecosystem innovation, we are committed to providing customers the world’s best CPUs and new products from GPUs to AI chips. In this expanding market, we expect to gain share in many areas like AI training, 5G networks, graphics and autonomous driving.”

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Arif Bacchus
Arif Bacchus is a native New Yorker and a fan of all things technology. Arif works as a freelance writer at Digital Trends…
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