Windows on ARM

In 2010 Microsoft got interested in ARM, because of low-power solutions for server-parks. ARM tried to lobby for years to convince Microsoft to port Windows to their architecture and now the result is there. Let’s not look to the past, why they did not do it earlier and depended completely on Intel, AMD/ATI and NVIDIA. NB: This article is a personal opinion, to open up the conversation about Windows plus OpenCL.

While Google and Apple have taken their share on the ARM-OS market, Microsoft wants some too. A wise choice, but again late. We’ve seen how the Windows-PC market was targeted first from the cloud (run services in the browser on any platform) and Apple’s user-friendly eye-candy (A personal computer had to be distinguished from a dull working-machine), then from the smartphones and tablets (many users want e-mail and a browser, not sit behind their desk). MS’s responses were Azure (Cloud, Q1 2010), Windows 7 (OS with slick user-interface, Q3 2009), Windows Phone 7 (Smartphones, Q4 2010) and now Windows 8 (OS for X86 PCs and ARM tablets, 2012 or later).

Windows 8 for ARM will be made with assistance from NVIDIA, Qualcomm and Texas Instruments, according to their press-release [1]. They even demonstrated a beta of Windows 8 running Microsoft Office on ARM-hardware, so it is not just a promise.

How can Microsoft support this new platform and (for StreamHPC more important) what will the consequences be for OpenCL, CUDA and DirectCompute.

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DirectCompute’s unpopularity

In the world of GPGPU we have currently 4 players: Khronos OpenCL, NVIDIA CUDA, Microsoft DirectCompute and PathScal ENZO. You probably know CUDA and OpenCL already (or start reading more articles from this blog). ENZO is a 64bit-compiler which serves a small niche-market, and DirectCompute is built on top of CUDA/OpenCL or at least uses the same drivers.

Edit 2011-01-03: I was contacted by Pathscale about my conclusions about ENZO. The reason why not much is out there is that they’re still in closed alpha. Expect more to hear from them about ENZO somewhere in the coming 3 months.

A while ago there was an article introducing OpenCL by David Kanter who claimed on page 4 that DirectCompute will win from CUDA. I quote:

Judging by history though, OpenCL and DirectCompute will eventually come to dominate the landscape, just as OpenGL and DirectX became the standards for graphics.

I twittered that I totally disagreed with him and in this article I will explain why I think that.

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