Despite the huge market penetration of ARM-architecture devices, superior performance-per-watt and Windows adoption, the English firm still suffers from a significant disadvantage; support for x86.
Perhaps the biggest issue is that, x86 isn't a legacy architecture and isn't looking to die any-time soon and so, many programs will still be designed to support only this platform. Microsoft made a choice, when bringing Windows support to ARM, to avoid desktop support and any form of x86 emulation, despite the modern ARM processor performing on a level around that of a high-end Atom - clearly capable of running a full-fat OS.
American firm, Elbrus Technologies, plans to take advantage of this gap in the market and currently offers an x86 to ARM emulator that functions at around 40 per cent efficiency. This may not sound so great, however, ARM processors typically offer between 50 and 90 per cent superior performance per watt and so already, there's the appeal of more efficient computing in some scenarios.
Elbrus hopes that in two years, the firm will be able to reach 80 per cent emulation efficiency versus a native ARM app, through the creation of a binary translator and optimisation process. Even if the firm reaches only 60 per cent efficiency, this will still see most applications run at a superior performance-per-watt to a native x86 processor and, likely at a lower cost as well. This has serious appeal for both ultra-portables and more so for large data centres, where owners can invest in many, cheap ARM cores, whilst being able to run a stock x86 operating system and program.
If ever an x86 to ARM emulator surpasses 60 per cent efficiency and proves to function reliably, it'll be one to keep an eye on, as there'll be a serious new competitor entering the x86 market.