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CheckMag | Why Windows on ARM is far from dead

Why Windows on ARM is far from dead
Why Windows on ARM is far from dead
Some people compare Windows on ARM with Windows RT, declaring its death. But such proclamations may be a tad early. Arguably, Windows on ARM is more alive now than it has ever been since the 2016 Qualcomm/Microsoft partnership announcement, as it is getting ready for a busy year 2024.
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In 2016, Qualcomm and Microsoft announced a partnership on ARM powered Windows devices - with Microsoft supplying the operating system and Qualcomm delivering the processors. In the years since, there have been a few laptops with various generations of Qualcomm Snapdragon CPUs, with the first ones largely the same as the smartphone CPUs and newer ones specifically made for PCs. Most of them ran Windows 10, the newest ones run Windows 11 - none were a  success. 

This leads some people to announce the death of this platform - Windows on ARM, a failure?

Yes, this platform has not been successful thus far, but it also lacked the one thing that it definitely needed to succeed: A good CPU. The software part of the equation is largely already fixed, as Microsoft has introduced comprehensive emulation systems with Windows 10 and 11.

The CPUs Qualcomm was able to deliver thus far were simply not good enough, with the Snapdragon 8cx that powered laptops like the Microsoft Surface Pro 9 or Lenovo ThinkPad X13s (available from Amazon for $989) being barely as powerful as an Intel i5 processor. The battery life those devices delivered was also not that much better than the x86 competition - so why exactly should people migrate to this platform? The hardware, not the software, was the key issue still remaining.

Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3 devices: Simply not efficient enough

Cinebench R23 - Multi Core
Microsoft Surface Pro 9, i7-1255U
Iris Xe G7 96EUs, i7-1255U, Samsung MZ9L4512HBLU-00BMV
9517 Points
Lenovo ThinkPad X13 G3 21CM002UGE
Radeon 660M, R5 PRO 6650U, Samsung PM9A1 MZVL2512HCJQ
7805 Points
Microsoft Surface Pro 9, ARM
Adreno 690, SD 8cx Gen 3
3567 Points
Lenovo ThinkPad X13s Gen 1 21BX000QGE
Adreno 690, SD 8cx Gen 3, Lenovo UMIS AM630 RPJTJ512MGE1QDQ
3534 Points
Battery Runtime - WiFi v1.3
Microsoft Surface Pro 9, i7-1255U
Iris Xe G7 96EUs, i7-1255U, Samsung MZ9L4512HBLU-00BMV
451 min
Microsoft Surface Pro 9, ARM
Adreno 690, SD 8cx Gen 3
603 min
Lenovo ThinkPad X13s Gen 1 21BX000QGE
Adreno 690, SD 8cx Gen 3, Lenovo UMIS AM630 RPJTJ512MGE1QDQ
848 min
Lenovo ThinkPad X13 G3 21CM002UGE
Radeon 660M, R5 PRO 6650U, Samsung PM9A1 MZVL2512HCJQ
751 min

Arguably, the hardware also was what made Apple's transition to ARM a success. Apple also had to employ emulation for most programs initially. What really sold people on the Apple M1 was not the great software support, it was the efficiency gains over earlier Intel Macs. So, where is the Apple M1 of the Windows world?

The Qualcomm Snapdragon X Elite could make next year the year of "Windows on ARM"

Luckily, we already know that Qualcomm is getting ready to release the new Snapdragon X Elite in mid 2024. A new platform that has been years in development, which many key-engineers who worked on the Apple M CPUs. Qualcomm promises that this new CPU will not just be competitive, it will beat the competition. Of course, we do not know yet how much of that is just the regular marketing, as Qualcomm has only released benchmark numbers based on their own reference designs.

What we do know however is that the PC OEMs believe in this platform. With the Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3, only two major OEMs - Lenovo and Microsoft - offered portable PCs with this CPU. For the new Snapdragon X Elite, in addition to those two, HP, Dell, Acer, Asus, Samsung as well as the Chinese brands Xiaomi and Honor have been announced as partners.

And that might not be all: It is rumored that Microsoft will release their next version of Windows in 2024. Its release may coincide with the market entry of the Snapdragon X Elite, which may not be a coincidence after all. Such a new version of Windows, whether called Microsoft Windows 12 or something else, might be much more optimized for ARM than Windows 10 or Windows 11.

Windows on ARM has been pretty lifeless in the past years, yes - but it is not dead. Microsoft, Qualcomm and the PC OEMs have a vested interest in making it work, as more competition to Intel and AMD is sorely needed.

Source(s)

Qualcomm

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Benjamin Herzig, 2023-11-14 (Update: 2023-11-14)