Qualcomm is a critical provider of chips, powering a large segment of today’s smartphones. The company has recently upped its relationship with Nokia, just to illustrate how important it is, becoming set to fuel the rebirth of the Finnish giant.

However you don’t hear much about the firm or its activities, aside from technical posts on the best gadget-focused publications. The hoi polloi just want to know how many cores their processors have, and their clock speed. For consumers, that is enough. But what Qualcomm builds, however, dictates what sort of phones and mobile devices can be built. After all, if Qualcomm doesn’t offer what you need, and TI isn’t ready either, you either have to make it yourself, or wait.

What does all of this have to do with Windows 8? Everyone in the community of Microsoft watchers is trying to get a handle on what the hardware that is going to run the forthcoming operating system will look like. After all, no one is expecting all Windows 8 tablets to have fans, right? If you didn’t get that joke, good on you. Have a biscuit.

The Chip Cometh

Qualcomm does have something up its sleeve, however, that is becoming more illustrative with time. Meet the MSM8960, a dual-core chip that Qualcomm is set to debut early next year. According to a Forbes interview, early prototypes are already out to OEMs for testing.

Why does the 8960 matter? It’s been built with an eye towards Windows 8, as the OS has support for ARM processors. The chip has a built-in modem, and it’s going to run up at speeds of up to 2.5 gigaherz, according to Engadget. In other words, it has more than enough juice to run Windows 8, and will help keep the resulting devices small, as it has the required 3G capabilities baked into itself.

Qualcomm had this to say on its current activities: “we’re investing very heavily to really prepare for [Windows 8].” Indeed, and the MSM8960 looks set to power what we might call the first real generation of Windows 8 hardware. This implies that Windows 8 tablets and slates are going to be more akin the iPad than Samsung’s Series 7. And that means that they will likely run at price points that could allow for mass adoption.

In short, Qualcomm’s work says more than what one might expect about what is coming in terms of Windows OEM projects. In regards to what is possible with Windows 8, Qualcomm said that “[t]hese types of opportunities where the ecosystem and market changes in a big way don’t come along very often.” That’s what is brewing, according to the guys in the know. Now you are one of them.

Qualcomm