Full-Fat Windows Comes to Embedded Arm Devices as Avnet Demos an NXP-Powered IoT Platform

New bootloader brings Windows 10 IoT Enterprise and your choice of Win32 software to NXP's powerful i.MX 8 family.

Avnet has announced an Arm-based system-on-module and carrier board combination which offers full compatibility with existing Microsoft Windows applications — running full-fat Windows 10 IoT Enterprise on an NXP i.MX 8M or 8M Plus processor for the first time.

Made up of an MSC SM2S-IMX8PLUS or MSC SM2S-IMX8M system-on-module (SOM) in a SM2S-MB-EP5 SimpleFlex carrier board, the new embedded platform differs from its predecessors in its compatibility — using the dual- or quad-core Arm Cortex-A53 application processors, which run alongside a real-time Cortex-M7 core and Vivante GC7000UL graphics processor, to drive a full-fat desktop-equivalent Windows operating system for the broadest possible software compatibility.

Microsoft's history with Arm compatibility has not been without its speed-bumps. For years, its mainstream operating systems clung to x86 exclusivity — and Windows CE, unveiled in 1996 and a big part of the company's push into the Personal Digital Assistants (PDA) market, offered only a basic subset of the core Windows functionality. A similarly cut-down version of Windows 8, dubbed Windows RT, proved considerably less popular — leading Microsoft to launch the Windows on Arm initiative to offer a full Windows experience on selected Arm processors, alongside Windows IoT for embedded devices.

What the new module supports isn't to be confused with the latter. While Windows 10 IoT Enterprise is, technically, a member of the Windows IoT family, it's almost identical to mainstream Windows 10 Enterprise bar tweaks to make it more suitable for devices with smaller available storage — and includes the ability to run any application written for the Win32 application programming interface (API), without them needing to be rewritten or even recompiled.

For Microsoft, it represents a final break with the past — and its dogged insistence that mainstream Windows applications should only run on mainstream x86 PCs, an attitude that extended to its decision to lock down earlier Windows on Arm efforts to Qualcomm chips exclusively. For developers, it opens new doors — from quickly being able to port an existing application to a low-power embedded system all the way to attracting new talent already familiar with the Win32 API and broader Windows ecosystem.

"The new Windows 10 IoT Enterprise LTSC for Arm running on an industrial i.MX 8M Plus MPU [Microprocessor Unit] from NXP is a real game changer," claims Avnet Embedded's Tim Jensen of the company's creation. "The new solution will unlock the entire PC ecosystem for Arm MPUs. PC applications will run on this version of Windows without any adaptation and combined with the 10-year support in the LTSC channel, the TCO [Total Cost of Ownership] for industrial customers is outstanding."

The bundle, meanwhile, will be made available in two variants. The first will come ready-to-run with Windows 10 IoT Enterprise pre-installed, using the Long Term Service Channel (LTSC) variant for an extended support lifespan; the second will include a bootloader, developed by Avnet Embedded in partnership with Avnet Silica, which allows the end-user to install Windows themselves — or another operating system of their choice.

Precise specifications will depend on the module chosen, with the top-end variant offering a quad-core Cortex-A53 processor running at up to 1.8GHz, a neural network coprocessor with 2.3 tera-operations per second (TOPS) of compute, a Cadence HiFi4 digital signal processor (DSP), up to 8GB of LPDDR4 RAM, and up to 256GB of eMMC flash storage plus SD Card and PCIe expansion.

Avnet has not yet announced pricing for the platform, but has published plenty of information on the Avnet Embedded website — and is showing off demo units, running standard Win32 applications on a connected display, during Embedded World 2023 at both Avnet Embedded’s Booth 510 in Hall 1 and at Avnet Silica’s Booth 111 in Hall 3A.

Gareth Halfacree
Freelance journalist, technical author, hacker, tinkerer, erstwhile sysadmin. For hire: freelance@halfacree.co.uk.
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