Microsoft has reportedly finished coding a stable version (or possibly versions) of Windows 8 for ARM-powered mobile chips, such as those manufactured by industry heavyweights Nvidia, Qualcomm and TI.
"In October of last year, [Windows 8 on ARM] scared the industry because it was unstable. But what we are seeing now is quite stable," an unnamed source told CNET.
"We haven't heard this directly from Microsoft, but from [various] hardware partners. We've been promised something in the February time frame."
Of course, ARM-powered devices running Windows 8 are expected to pose quite a challenge to Intel, as they will boast significantly lower prices compared to x86-based devices.
"With [Intel-based] ultrabooks you're popularizing the idea that you have this thinner design that turns on faster [and has a longer lasting battery life]," said the source.
"But then you have Windows 8 on ARM that's built at a price point that's much lower. And does all of those things too. This is setting up the ultrabook to head right into the teeth of their [ARM] competitor."
For its part, Santa Clara has kicked off a marketing campaign aimed at countering Windows-8 ARM devices. Intel reps are stressing the lack of legacy app support on such devices, while talking up the raw horsepower of x86 chips.
Nevertheless, analysts at Nomura Equity Research project that ARM-powered processors will make serious inroads in the notebook computer market by 2013, with RISC-based chips capturing 17 percent of the market, or 49 million units in 2015.
Analysts at Sterne Agee also believe emerging market growth could shift from x86 PCs to lower-cost Windows ARM platforms.
"While PCs have seen the strongest engine of growth from emerging countries, the emergence of lower-cost ARM PC platforms in C2H12 could become a more attractive option for the low-cost geographies," Vijay Rakesh and Mark Kelley wrote in a recent industry note obtained by TG Daily.
"We believe many of the Asian PC OEMs, Acer, Lenovo and Asustek, with 10% of shipments already on tablets, are all working on Win8/ARM PC solutions, thereby lowering focus on core PCs. We believe 2012 could see 5% of NB and 2013 ~10% of NB move to ARM-based platforms."