According to a new report from Bloomberg, Microsoft is working on its own custom ARM chips, which will be used in servers and Surface products. The plan is to rely less on Intel, coming on the heels of the fanfare around Apple's transition to ARM across its entire lineup. However, according to the report, Microsoft is going to be using Arm's designs, which Apple does not do.
Apple actually calls its processors 'Apple Silicon', because they are, in fact, custom-designed. Rather than licensing the actual designs, Apple just licenses the instruction set, making its own designs. What Microsoft would be doing, assuming that this report is accurate, is more similar to what we see from the likes of Qualcomm, Samsung, and so on.
Microsoft has been offering an ARM flavor of Windows since 2017, but to date, it's only run on Qualcomm processors. The first two generations of the product were repurposed smartphone chips, including the Snapdragon 835 and the Snapdragon 845-based Snapdragon 850.
The Snapdragon 8cx was the first one that was designed from the ground up for PCs, and it was developed by Qualcomm in close collaboration with Microsoft. Later, a slightly modified version of the Snapdragon 8cx shipped in the Surface Pro X, but this time, the chipset had Microsoft branding. The 'SQ' in Microsoft SQ1 stood for Surface-Qualcomm.
Making an ARM chip for Surface is something that really wouldn't make much sense for Microsoft, especially since it would be using the same kind of ARM license that Qualcomm uses, and also since Qualcomm's PC chipsets are already developed in such close collaboration with Microsoft. Microsoft wanting to distance itself from Intel is obvious, but it's unclear why the Redmond firm would be distancing itself from Qualcomm at this point.
Making an ARM chip for servers, on the other hand, makes a lot more sense. Microsoft announced in the past that it had plans to optimize Windows Server for ARM, and Qualcomm isn't as strong of a player in the server chipset market. The company could also use them in its Azure datacenters, and it would be a means of keeping one more thing in-house.
The chip design division inside of Microsoft reports to Jason Zander, who's in charge of Azure, so this should give you an idea on which of the two ideas the team is focused on, servers. If it was a focus on Windows and Surface, the project would fall under Windows and devices lead Panos Panay. Of course, it wouldn't be the first time a product crossed the bridge between Azure and Windows.
The report cited sources that didn't want to be named, and it did not say when we can expect to see these products.
Update: Microsoft has responded to our request for comment with a statement from communications head Frank X Shaw.
"Because silicon is a foundational building block for technology, we’re continuing to invest in our own capabilities in areas like design, manufacturing and tools, while also fostering and strengthening partnerships with a wide range of chip providers."