Welcome to Brown’s Bytes! Your weekly insight from Mobliciti’s CTO Andy Brown. Follow #brownsbytes
27th November 2020
Last week I had a look at the new M1 CPU powered Apple Macs and how their performance has taken the market by surprise, giving Apple a lead over Windows hardware when it comes to performance vs battery life.
I was asked by a reader to follow up with how I think Microsoft is responding to this… so here goes!
Windows running on ARM CPUs
In theory, Microsoft should already be in the lead. They actually have a long history of working on ARM-based versions of Windows – in fact, Windows 10 is already available for ARM! So why all the hype around what Apple did?
If all you want to do is boot up Windows and run an Edge browser, then out of the box you have Windows 10 ARM today.
Most of the software that people will want to use though is currently compiled for the long-running Intel chipsets. Historically, this is x86 win32 (32 Bit) Applications and also x64 (64 Bit) Applications. To get these Applications running on ARM there are two options:
- Get the developers to rewrite/recompile the Apps to have an ARM version
- Use an emulation layer to fool the Apps into thinking they’re on an Intel machine
Option 1 is the ideal solution, but it takes time to get everyone to switch and is a real chicken and egg problem. Developers are only going to make the effort to change if there is a large enough install base to warrant the effort.
Hence you need Option 2 as a stop-gap. Historically this has been the problem – it tends to be slower and negates the advantages of the ARM CPU in the first place.
This is where Apple has made a leap forward and where Windows has historically struggled. Today, Windows 10 offers win32 emulation already (but it’s a bit slow) and has no emulation for X64 at all. Meanwhile, Apple nailed it with their first attempt!
If we look forward to 2021, there is some potentially good news starting to leak out of Microsoft. Windows Central has reported that Microsoft is working on an x64 app emulation and that this will potentially arrive in a feature update in the first half of 2021 (so the middle of the year then!). This is a big deal as it would mean that all applications should logically work.
And if Microsoft can get the emulation working without too much of a performance hit, then they have a viable ARM OS waiting in the wings.
In addition, Qualcomm is reported to be continuing to push forward with dedicated ARM chip designs for PC use (a bit like Apple has done with the M1) which should, theoretically at least, mean that Microsoft is in a position to challenge Apple’s M1 Mac by mid-2021.
All it needs is the hardware to pull it all together – I suspect Windows 10X dual-screen hardware will be somewhere in the mix with a Surface device obviously available from Microsoft.
In the meantime, Apple rubbed a bit of salt in the wound this week – For a long time, it’s been possible to run Windows on a Mac thanks to the shared Intel chipsets. This of course breaks on the M1 powered devices and Apple have (quite rightly) said it’s Microsoft’s problem to solve.
Indeed it is…and it looks like they are! 2021 is shaping up to be an interesting year for the evolution of Windows (and macOS).
As a supplier of both Surface and Apple, we’re ideally placed to help you through the selection process for new hardware. Get in touch if you’d like to know more…