Intel is not happy about Microsoft and Qualcomm's Windows 10 x86 emulation plans.
When the company's 8086 chip turned 39 years old Thursday, June 8, the company wasn't as celebratory as one would expect. For the most part, it highlighted the history of the architecture — but not without indirectly threatening Qualcomm or any company developing x86 emulation technology on their Windows 10 PCs.
Intel's lengthy blog post summarizes all the investments the company has made in making the x86 instruction set better, with features such as TSX transactional memory, SGX secure enclaves, and more, as proof of Intel's success in transforming the old architecture into something innovative.
Intel Threatens Qualcomm, Microsoft For x86 Emulation Plans
The latter half of the post, however, unexpectedly escalates into a less-than-celebratory note. Intel states that many of the developments it highlighted in the post are protected by patents and that the company itself has a history of using patents to protect its x86 developments. The post avoids dropping names, but at this point, it's easy to make guesses: Microsoft and perhaps Qualcomm too are supposedly the targets of Intel's threats.
"Intel carefully protects its x86 innovations, and we do not widely license others to use them," the company wrote in a blog post. "Over the past 30 years, Intel has vigilantly enforced its intellectual property rights against infringement by third-party microprocessors."
The company went further and listed victims of its previous patent wars: AMD, Cyrix, Transmeta, and more.
"[W]e do not welcome unlawful infringement of our patents, and we fully expect other companies to continue to respect Intel's intellectual property rights."
Windows 10 ARM, Powered By Qualcomm
Later this year, a number of companies including Asus, HP, and Lenovo will be launching Windows laptops powered by Qualcomm's Snapdragon 835 processor. While ARM-backed Windows PCs isn't news, there's a key difference this time around. Windows RT, Microsoft's first attempt to bring Windows to ARM, couldn't run any x86 apps. The new machines slated for this year, however, will include an x86 emulator that'll be able to run most, if not all, 32-bit x86 apps.
If this happens, those new machines will stand as threats to Intel's x86 business. If Windows 10 on ARM can offer better battery life, lower weight, and other key metrics, it could seriously undercut Intel in the same department, let alone if said machines are cheaper than what Intel offers. This, in turn, could dampen Intel's lead in the laptop space.
The implication seems to be that not only Intel will beef up its investments and innovations to improve the architecture, but it'll also be feel confident in initiating legal actions should companies violate its patents.
That said, information about Windows 10's x86 emulation is pretty nebulous at present, and its similarities to Intel's architecture are key to any potential litigation going forward, should they occur, that is.
It's hard to imagine that Qualcomm and Microsoft hadn't stumbled upon this conundrum amid their partnership. The manufacturers, meanwhile, are also fully supportive of the venture. Suppose Microsoft and Qualcomm missed the litigation involved as both were dishing out plans — again, this is highly unlikely — Intel's note should serve as fair warning.