Home > Articles > Hardware

Windows on ARM: The Challenges

Since Microsoft announced that Windows 8 would be available on ARM, there have been lots of comments from detractors. David Chisnall looks at the technical hurdles involved with the port and examines whether Microsoft will be able to make it all work
Like this article? We recommend

Like this article? We recommend

Microsoft recently announced that Windows 8, which (going by previous Windows release schedules) is due out some time in the next one to ten years, is going to run on ARM. Before the announcement, lots of people were claiming it was impossible. Afterwards, many of the same people were saying that it won't work. In this article, we'll take a look at Microsoft's history of supporting other platforms and some of the challenges that they face in the future.

For a long time, Microsoft Windows was very closely associated with the Intel architecture. The portmanteau wintel was common, referring to the duopoly of Microsoft and Intel in the PC market. In recent years, Intel's ties with Microsoft have weakened. They now provide the CPUs for Macs and sponsor a lot of work in the Linux ecosystem, so it's not surprising that Microsoft would look at alternatives.

The Portable Kernel

Supporting other architectures isn't exactly new for Microsoft. The Windows NT kernel was intended to be portable. The NT name comes from the Intel 860 CPU, which was the original target. Although Windows NT was expected to ship for x86 initially, the development team worked on a different architecture first to make sure that there were no x86isms in the final code.

In some ways, this is a shame. There are several features that were introduced with the 386 that could have provided a cleaner OS design if they'd been used, at the cost of portability.

Microsoft did ship versions of Windows NT for other operating systems. I have a Windows NT 4.0 CD, which says on the label that it runs on MIPS, PowerPC, and Alpha, as well as x86.

The only one of these that saw much use was the Alpha port. This had an advantage because, at the time, the Alpha was undisputed performance king. In 1997, you could buy a 553MHz Alpha, when the fastest CPU from Intel was a 300MHz Pentium II, and was slower clock-for-clock.

Since NT 4, Microsoft has only supported one non-x86 architecture with Windows NT. Windows Server 2003 and 2008 both shipped with Itanium versions. Given the minuscule sales of Itanium systems, it is doubtful that Microsoft made much, if any, money from this port.

The XBox 360, running on a PowerPC architecture, also uses an NT-based kernel, although it's not clear how much code this shares with the desktop-Windows version.

Supporting a new architecture in any kernel is always more than a straight recompile, but it's much easier when the kernel has already been ported once. Microsoft already has experience targeting ARM with the WinCE kernel and it may even be possible to reuse some of this code.

About the only parts of a kernel that are dependent on the CPU are the page tables and context switching logic, and the interface to external hardware. This is typically not much code—a few thousand lines.

The big effort when supporting a new architecture is typically the required device drivers. Supporting ARM doesn't mean supporting a PC motherboard with an ARM CPU plugged in instead of the x86 chip; it means supporting all of the hardware on a diverse array of ARM systems-on-chip (SoC). These can differ widely, not just in obvious ways like different DSPs or GPUs, but also in fundamental things like timers and interrupt controllers. Most likely, Microsoft will expect SoC manufacturers to provide drivers for their hardware. How well this works depends on how many third parties they can get on board. At the very least, I'd expect nVidia to work with them to get Tegra 2 supported.

InformIT Promotional Mailings & Special Offers

I would like to receive exclusive offers and hear about products from InformIT and its family of brands. I can unsubscribe at any time.


Pearson Education, Inc., 221 River Street, Hoboken, New Jersey 07030, (Pearson) presents this site to provide information about products and services that can be purchased through this site.

This privacy notice provides an overview of our commitment to privacy and describes how we collect, protect, use and share personal information collected through this site. Please note that other Pearson websites and online products and services have their own separate privacy policies.

Collection and Use of Information

To conduct business and deliver products and services, Pearson collects and uses personal information in several ways in connection with this site, including:

Questions and Inquiries

For inquiries and questions, we collect the inquiry or question, together with name, contact details (email address, phone number and mailing address) and any other additional information voluntarily submitted to us through a Contact Us form or an email. We use this information to address the inquiry and respond to the question.

Online Store

For orders and purchases placed through our online store on this site, we collect order details, name, institution name and address (if applicable), email address, phone number, shipping and billing addresses, credit/debit card information, shipping options and any instructions. We use this information to complete transactions, fulfill orders, communicate with individuals placing orders or visiting the online store, and for related purposes.


Pearson may offer opportunities to provide feedback or participate in surveys, including surveys evaluating Pearson products, services or sites. Participation is voluntary. Pearson collects information requested in the survey questions and uses the information to evaluate, support, maintain and improve products, services or sites, develop new products and services, conduct educational research and for other purposes specified in the survey.

Contests and Drawings

Occasionally, we may sponsor a contest or drawing. Participation is optional. Pearson collects name, contact information and other information specified on the entry form for the contest or drawing to conduct the contest or drawing. Pearson may collect additional personal information from the winners of a contest or drawing in order to award the prize and for tax reporting purposes, as required by law.


If you have elected to receive email newsletters or promotional mailings and special offers but want to unsubscribe, simply email information@informit.com.

Service Announcements

On rare occasions it is necessary to send out a strictly service related announcement. For instance, if our service is temporarily suspended for maintenance we might send users an email. Generally, users may not opt-out of these communications, though they can deactivate their account information. However, these communications are not promotional in nature.

Customer Service

We communicate with users on a regular basis to provide requested services and in regard to issues relating to their account we reply via email or phone in accordance with the users' wishes when a user submits their information through our Contact Us form.

Other Collection and Use of Information

Application and System Logs

Pearson automatically collects log data to help ensure the delivery, availability and security of this site. Log data may include technical information about how a user or visitor connected to this site, such as browser type, type of computer/device, operating system, internet service provider and IP address. We use this information for support purposes and to monitor the health of the site, identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents and appropriately scale computing resources.

Web Analytics

Pearson may use third party web trend analytical services, including Google Analytics, to collect visitor information, such as IP addresses, browser types, referring pages, pages visited and time spent on a particular site. While these analytical services collect and report information on an anonymous basis, they may use cookies to gather web trend information. The information gathered may enable Pearson (but not the third party web trend services) to link information with application and system log data. Pearson uses this information for system administration and to identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents, appropriately scale computing resources and otherwise support and deliver this site and its services.

Cookies and Related Technologies

This site uses cookies and similar technologies to personalize content, measure traffic patterns, control security, track use and access of information on this site, and provide interest-based messages and advertising. Users can manage and block the use of cookies through their browser. Disabling or blocking certain cookies may limit the functionality of this site.

Do Not Track

This site currently does not respond to Do Not Track signals.


Pearson uses appropriate physical, administrative and technical security measures to protect personal information from unauthorized access, use and disclosure.


This site is not directed to children under the age of 13.


Pearson may send or direct marketing communications to users, provided that

  • Pearson will not use personal information collected or processed as a K-12 school service provider for the purpose of directed or targeted advertising.
  • Such marketing is consistent with applicable law and Pearson's legal obligations.
  • Pearson will not knowingly direct or send marketing communications to an individual who has expressed a preference not to receive marketing.
  • Where required by applicable law, express or implied consent to marketing exists and has not been withdrawn.

Pearson may provide personal information to a third party service provider on a restricted basis to provide marketing solely on behalf of Pearson or an affiliate or customer for whom Pearson is a service provider. Marketing preferences may be changed at any time.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user's personally identifiable information changes (such as your postal address or email address), we provide a way to correct or update that user's personal data provided to us. This can be done on the Account page. If a user no longer desires our service and desires to delete his or her account, please contact us at customer-service@informit.com and we will process the deletion of a user's account.


Users can always make an informed choice as to whether they should proceed with certain services offered by InformIT. If you choose to remove yourself from our mailing list(s) simply visit the following page and uncheck any communication you no longer want to receive: www.informit.com/u.aspx.

Sale of Personal Information

Pearson does not rent or sell personal information in exchange for any payment of money.

While Pearson does not sell personal information, as defined in Nevada law, Nevada residents may email a request for no sale of their personal information to NevadaDesignatedRequest@pearson.com.

Supplemental Privacy Statement for California Residents

California residents should read our Supplemental privacy statement for California residents in conjunction with this Privacy Notice. The Supplemental privacy statement for California residents explains Pearson's commitment to comply with California law and applies to personal information of California residents collected in connection with this site and the Services.

Sharing and Disclosure

Pearson may disclose personal information, as follows:

  • As required by law.
  • With the consent of the individual (or their parent, if the individual is a minor)
  • In response to a subpoena, court order or legal process, to the extent permitted or required by law
  • To protect the security and safety of individuals, data, assets and systems, consistent with applicable law
  • In connection the sale, joint venture or other transfer of some or all of its company or assets, subject to the provisions of this Privacy Notice
  • To investigate or address actual or suspected fraud or other illegal activities
  • To exercise its legal rights, including enforcement of the Terms of Use for this site or another contract
  • To affiliated Pearson companies and other companies and organizations who perform work for Pearson and are obligated to protect the privacy of personal information consistent with this Privacy Notice
  • To a school, organization, company or government agency, where Pearson collects or processes the personal information in a school setting or on behalf of such organization, company or government agency.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that we are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of each and every web site that collects Personal Information. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this web site.

Requests and Contact

Please contact us about this Privacy Notice or if you have any requests or questions relating to the privacy of your personal information.

Changes to this Privacy Notice

We may revise this Privacy Notice through an updated posting. We will identify the effective date of the revision in the posting. Often, updates are made to provide greater clarity or to comply with changes in regulatory requirements. If the updates involve material changes to the collection, protection, use or disclosure of Personal Information, Pearson will provide notice of the change through a conspicuous notice on this site or other appropriate way. Continued use of the site after the effective date of a posted revision evidences acceptance. Please contact us if you have questions or concerns about the Privacy Notice or any objection to any revisions.

Last Update: November 17, 2020