Likes and Dislikes of Windows on ARM

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A few years ago I reviewed the Surface Pro X. As you may recall, I was very critical of Microsoft at the time, saying it was the Surface I was trying to upgrade. love but ended up hating. The hardware itself was fine, but the main reason I didn’t like my new Surface was due to underlying Windows on ARM issues.

Fast forward 2 years later, things have really changed. With things like Project Volterra and Microsoft optimizing more apps for ARM-based SoCs, Microsoft is taking Windows on ARM much more seriously. I felt so good that I reinvested and got a ThinkPad X13s for the long haul.

I’ve reviewed this laptop before, but now I want to take a step back and talk about my experience with Windows on ARM itself. Specifically, what I like and what I don’t like. after living with an ARM-based computer for a month.

What I like

Battery life

Alright, so I’ll start with that. The first thing I love about Windows on ARM is the battery life. This is something that Microsoft (and its partners) have widely advertised, and I have to say it’s absolutely true. ARM-based SoCs, such as the Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3, run at lower power than their Intel counterparts. That means smartphone-like wake and sleep times, as well as battery life.

In my case with the ThinkPad X13s, I spent close to 13-14 hours browsing the web from my laptop most days. At worst, it was sometimes 10 am. Laptops with Intel or AMD chips top out around 9 hours, though devices with 12th-gen Intel P-series chips (like the recently-reviewed Dell Inspiron 16 2-in-1) can top out higher. Either way, battery life is Windows on ARM’s biggest strength. Even standby is amazing, as I often leave my ThinkPad in standby overnight, returning to it and finding no battery drain.

Daily performance

What I like and dislike about Windows on ARM after living with a ThinkPad X13s for a month - OnMSFT.com - July 19, 2022

Number two on my list is the streamlining and efficiency of Windows on ARM. With many Microsoft apps optimized for Windows on ARM, the things I needed most for my workflows worked perfectly. Microsoft Edge and Microsoft Teams all run without crashing or other issues because they are both optimized for Windows on ARM.

This is a big difference from when the Surface Pro X came out and these apps often crashed on me or just crashed. Using a Surface Laptop Studio as my primary machine, I can barely feel the difference between it and my ThinkPad during my web-based workflows. The even better news is that Microsoft is working to further optimize its own apps (and even Windows apps) for ARM. Visual Studio 2022, Microsoft Store, and Media Player are just a few that Microsoft is beta testing ARM-based versions for. Even partner apps like Adobe Photoshop are now optimized for ARM, and even more business apps can be optimized with Microsoft App Assurance.

And, while I’m here, I’ll also touch on how the system feels. Windows on ARM devices are passively cooled. which means they have no fans. My ThinkPad never gets hot during regular use. The only times it got hot was when it was charging or when I ended up performing a demanding task like gaming or using virtual machines in HyperV.

Virtualization with HyperV

What I like and dislike about Windows on ARM after living with a ThinkPad X13s for a month - OnMSFT.com - July 19, 2022

On this same performance topic, I want to mention a few other things I’ve tried. It’s amazing to me that Windows on ARM has virtualization support. Since the ThinkPad X13s is a Windows 11 Pro device, I was able to create virtual machines through Hyper V. Windows 10, Windows 11, Ubuntu, etc. Everything worked! And, with the ThinkPad supporting up to 32GB of RAM, I could run multiple virtual machines simultaneously. It is really impressive !

What I do not like

What I like and dislike about Windows on ARM after living with a ThinkPad X13s for a month - OnMSFT.com - July 19, 2022

Part of emulation layer and games

There’s only one thing I don’t like about Windows on ARM, and that’s app emulation. Microsoft initially only allowed 32-bit app emulation in Windows on ARM, but that changed in Windows 11 (and for a short time in Windows 10) when they shipped 64-bit app emulation as well. . Again, I won’t lie, the new emulation opens up the ability to run many awesome apps on Windows on ARM and it’s amazing. Even 32-bit apps like Chrome work fine without any issues. However, there is a flaw.

Although it is possible to run 64-bit applications on Windows on ARM, these applications sometimes cannot properly read the GPU in the Snapdragon SoC. Instead, they rely on the CPU to do all the hard work. The best example is when I tried to encode videos using Wondershare Filmora on my ThinkPad. The final project took an extremely slow time to be exported. The same also applied when I was trying to play games on Steam.

Some lighter titles worked fine, but heavy games like CS:Go didn’t read the GPU layer properly. In my tests, only Windows Store games seemed to read the GPU. I really hope Microsoft manages to fix how app emulation works and allow emulated apps to unleash the full power of Adreno GPUs. This would finally give Windows on ARM M1-level performance for all apps, not just optimized apps.

The app compatibility issue also applies to drivers. My printer did not work in Windows on ARM, but most of my other accessories worked. If I didn’t have a spare PC I would have been in big trouble, I wouldn’t have been able to print documents from my ThinkPad.

I still believe in Windows on ARM

All that said, I’m still a fan of Windows on ARM. Unlike the Surface Pro X a few years ago, it looks like Qualcomm has finally caught up with Intel with its new SoC, and newer machines with the 8cx Gen 3 should perform well. Windows on ARM works just fine, and while app emulation might keep it from driving most people away from Intel machines, I feel like Microsoft has invested in it well in the future, and c Now is a good time to buy a Windows on ARM laptop, to get the most out of it at some point.

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