Microsoft is removing one of the big limitations of Windows on ARM this week by allowing developers to create 64-bit ARM (ARM64) apps. Developers will be able to recompile existing win32 or Universal Windows Apps to run natively on Windows 10 on ARM hardware. That means 64-bit app performance should get a lot better, as long as developers take the time to recompile.
Microsoft is now relying on developers to use its tools to improve its Windows on ARM efforts. That’s a situation the software giant has found itself in before, relying on developers to create Universal Windows Apps for Windows 8, Windows 10, and Windows Phone apps for a variety of new touch-based hardware. It’s hard to say whether 64-bit app support will really help move Windows on ARM into the mainstream, but it’s certainly laying the ground work for a bigger push by Microsoft.
Windows on ARM has been progressing steadily over the past year, but performance and app compatibility are still big issues. Windows 10 includes an emulation layer for x86 apps running on ARM processors, and it’s the way you’ll experience most desktop apps on one of these machines at the moment. Emulation is never ideal, so if developers recompile their apps to run natively on Windows on ARM then we’ll start to see just how well these laptops can compare to traditional Intel-powered devices.
As Intel continues to struggle with its 10nm processors, competition from ARM processors has closed the performance gap significantly. Apple compares its latest iPad Pro gaming performance to an Xbox One S console, and benchmarks show it’s competitive at CPU tasks. ARM is also promising laptop-level performance from its Cortex-A76 chip design in 2019. The chip design company has been claiming that ARM processors next year will compete with Intel’s Kaby Lake range on laptops.
New Windows on ARM devices have started appearing recently, including Lenovo’s Yoga C630 and Samsung’s Galaxy Book 2. Both are powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 850, and have phenomenal battery life. Microsoft has not yet launched a modern ARM-powered Surface. Recent reports suggest the company was considering ARM for the Surface Go, but Intel reportedly intervened and petitioned Microsoft to choose its Pentium Gold processors.