No Windows 10 Creators Update for you, Microsoft says—at least, not if you happen to be the unlucky owner of certain older Atom-based Windows devices, and other aging models in the future. After stories arose of failed attempts to upgrade such hardware to the Creators Update, Microsoft confirmed late Wednesday that any hardware device that falls out of the manufacturer’s support cycle may be ineligible for future Windows 10 updates.
In the case of the four “Clover Trail” processors (part of the Cloverview platform) that have fallen into Intel’s End of Interactive Support phase, they will be ineligible for the Windows 10 Creators Update, Microsoft confirmed. Instead, they’ll simply be offered the Windows 10 Anniversary Update, plus security updates through January, 2023, the end of the original Windows 8.1 support period.
The problem, however, is that Microsoft’s language opens up the possibility that any unsupported hardware device could be excluded from future Windows 10 updates. “Recognizing that a combination of hardware, driver and firmware support is required to have a good Windows 10 experience, we updated our support lifecycle policy to align with the hardware support period for a given device,” Microsoft said in a statement. “If a hardware partner stops supporting a given device or one of its key components and stops providing driver updates, firmware updates, or fixes, it may mean that device will not be able to properly run a future Windows 10 feature update.”
Why this matters: For years, the rule of thumb was that you could run virtually any operating system on top of any Intel, AMD (or even Cyrix) hardware. Chances are that it would run, if slowly. Over time, though, things changed. As malware became more potent, running a supported Windows operating system became more important. Now, there’s Windows as a Service: If Windows 10 never really goes away, what limits PC builders is supported hardware, apparently. Now we have to worry about how long all of our PC hardware components are supported, lest we lose access to upcoming versions of Windows 10.
Is this more than sweeping Atom under the rug?
Microsoft appears to be doubling down on its belief that up-to-date hardware requires an updated operating system, and vice versa. Microsoft said last year that it would restrict the latest Intel Kaby Lake and AMD Ryzen silicon to Windows 10. Recently, the company has blocked patches on PCs that try to run older Windows operating systems on modern hardware.
“As new silicon generations are introduced, they will require the latest Windows platform at that time for support,” Microsoft said in January, 2016. “This enables us to focus on deep integration between Windows and the silicon, while maintaining maximum reliability and compatibility with previous generations of platform and silicon.”
Microsoft’s Clover Trail stance sets limits on what those previous generations can expect. If a processor platform falls out of support by a chip vendor, Microsoft will drop it from its OS list.
What’s unclear, though, is whether Microsoft’s new position represents a fundamental shift in policy, or a rather narrow focus on Intel’s troubled Atom processors. At one time, Atom’s “Clover Trail” architecture represented the future of Intel processors within the smartphone and tablet markets. But Intel never could quite develop the system-on-chip with logic and communications that rivals like ARM provided, and Intel essentially killed the Atom platform in 2016. Without a healthy customer base to support, Intel apparently decided to refocus its support resources away from the Clover Trail architecture.
Devices that use Intel’s Clover Trail chips “require additional hardware support to provide the best possible experience when updating to the latest Windows 10 feature update, the Windows 10 Creators Update,” Microsoft said in a statement. “However, these systems are no longer supported by Intel… and without the necessary driver support, they may be incapable of moving to the Windows 10 Creators Update without a potential performance impact.”
Specifically, the Clover Trail chips have moved into the “End of Interactive Support,” (EOIS) which is defined as “Intel Customer Support Agents no longer respond to telephone, chat, community support forums, or email inquiries for this product.” Self-help is provided by Intel’s support community, generally made up of other users.
What’s worrying about Microsoft’s statement, though, is its broadness. Conceivably, any “device”—microprocessor, hard drive, network controller, sound card, headphones, monitor, and more—that a manufacturer discontinues or fails to actively support could drop out of Windows updates. While this would certainly encourage new PC and hardware purchases, it would also infuriate millions of PC users whose otherwise-functional legacy devices fell by the wayside.
A related question is whether Microsoft will refuse to support any other Intel processors that have reached EOIS status. Intel has published an enormous list of legacy Core processors on its site, which includes dozens if not hundreds of chips that have already fallen into the EOIS bin. The most recent EOIS chip appears to be the Core i7-990X, a 32-nm Gulftown processor most recently sold during the first quarter of 2011. But chips including the Ivy Bridge (2012) architecture are already at end-of-life status, and presumably headed for EOIS status next. It’s not clear whether moving a chip to an EOIS status is decided on a chip-per-chip basis, or if there’s a fixed timeline by which chips move from officially supported to end-of-life, and then to EOIS status.
Intel representatives declined to comment on whether other chips beyond the four Clover Trail processors were affected, referring questions to Microsoft.
If there’s an upside, it’s that Microsoft said it will actively work with chip vendors to find support for older hardware. “We know issues like this exist and we actively work to identify the best support path for older hardware,” Microsoft’s statement added.