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Microsoft doc reveals Windows 10 on ARM limitations

Myerson Windows 10
Myerson Windows 10 (Image credit: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

Microsoft introduced the first Windows 10 on ARM devices late last year, and we're still waiting for them to come to market. However, if you're thinking of picking one up, there will be some limitations to keep in mind when comparing the Qualcomm Snapdragon-powered devices to standard Intel- and AMD-based Windows 10 devices.

Over the weekend, Thurrott noticed (via The Verge) that Microsoft briefly published a full list of limitations to expect with Windows 10 on ARM devices. Its publishing appears to have been a mistake, as it has since been pulled. However, a cached version is still available. Here's a look:

  • Only ARM64 drivers are supported: Windows 10 on ARM can emulate x86 apps, but Microsoft says x86 and x64 drivers "are not currently emulated and thus not supported on this platform." Apps that work with their own custom drivers would need to be ported to ARM64.
  • x64 apps aren't supported: While Windows 10 on ARM will emulate x86 (32-bit) apps, it doesn't support 64-bit (x64) apps. Microsoft doesn't mention it in the documentation, this is planned for a future release.
  • Certain games don't work: Games and apps that use OpenGL versions later than 1.1 or that require hardware-accelerated OpenGL don't work. Ditto for games that rely on "anti-cheat" drivers that aren't supported on Windows 10 on ARM.
  • Apps that customize the Windows experience may not work correctly: Some input method editors (IMEs), assistive technologies, and cloud storage apps may not work correctly. This comes down to the fact that Windows 10 on ARM cannot load non-native components, Microsoft says.
  • Apps that assume that all ARM-based devices are running a mobile version of Windows may not work correctly: These apps may "appear in the wrong orientation, present unexpected UI layout or rendering" or fail to start when they try to use mobile-only APIs.
  • The Windows Hypervisor Platform is not supported on ARM: "Running any virtual machines using Hyper-V on an ARM device will not work," Microsoft says.

The tradeoff for these limitations is that devices running on Qualcomm's Snapdragon platform should sport much better battery life and constant connectivity. With Microsoft's work on emulating 32-bit apps should mean that Window 10 on ARM will work for most. What remains a mystery is performance, but we'll have to wait until the hardware is available to get a good look at what the experience is like.

Dan Thorp-Lancaster is the Editor in Chief for Windows Central. He began working with Windows Central as a news writer in 2014 and is obsessed with tech of all sorts. You can follow Dan on Twitter @DthorpL and Instagram @heyitsdtl. Got a hot tip? Send it to daniel.thorp-lancaster@futurenet.com.

64 Comments
  • So does that make W10 on Arm a different OS than W10? Or will they be able to mitigate or fix these issues? Thanks, Mr. V
  • Of course it will be different (x86 and x64 is also different), but for devs and UWP, the api is the same, should work after recompile.
    The Win10 experience (syste, UI, UX, etc) should be pretty much the same. If I were MS, I'll prob hide the desktop for small screen devices, just use StartScreen as desktop.
  • Also WIn32 works either with x86 or ARM64 as target - the former one will employ emulation and the later runs natively. Somewhat unfortunate is, that currently there is only a WOW64 opengl driver - this means an x86 opengl driver but no native ARM64 opengl driver. But thats what Microsoft can simply add in the future.
  • Not all of them can be mitigated as developers would have to port their code, drivers being the obvious one, to ARM64.
  • Drivers? This comes only on new devices, so it would have drivers automatically out of box.
  • Not for everything, do you think that Microsoft will have drivers built in for every piece of hardware ever created?
  • The drivers one is a no brainer, you can't use 32bit x86 drivers on a 64bit machine anyway so running x86 drivers on ARM64 would be difficult.
    Being unable to use x64 apps is also a no brainer as the processor only emulates x86 code.
    Again games that use OpenGL greater than 1.1 or hw accelerated OpenGL would require drivers to be ported to ARM64 and I doubt that will happen, same for anti-cheat drivers.
    Apps that customize the Windows experience MAY not work correctly, the keyword being MAY so that's not saying that they won't work.
    Apps designed for mobile devices may not work or not work correctly, well that's not going to be that much of a problem with UWPs as they tend to work across all platforms anyway but the ones from WP7, 7.5, 8 and 8.1 might be a problem.
    TBH I wouldn't want to run a VM on ARM and I certainly wouldn't want to use Hyper-V to run them anyway as the networking components are a PITA and AFAIK the components won't even be available to install.
  • Good luck explaining all those "no brainers" to shoppers at Best Buy. This is another failure in the making. They need to stop calling this stuff Windows unless there is no difference. Calling it Windows and going the experience helps no one.
  • Don't even start trying to troll my comments, just because YOU don't like something doesn't mean we should all have the same opinion of an unreleased product!!!
  • Sorry, those aren't "no brainers" for anyone but the most sophisticated users. That is a more troll statement than me calling it out!
  • How many average users do you know that actively use Hyper-V or care about whether drivers will work or care about apps that customise the Windows experience and how many of those use or used a Windows Phone?
  • Who cares if the drivers for their peripherials will work? If their apps will work? You need to ask that? Are you trolling?
  • @bleached I don't agree with you on most things but I'll agree with you here.  If after reading several articles on the limitations are correct, then the "Surface Phone" might just be in trouble before it even sees the light of day.  At least that's my take.
  • I agree that there are problems here. Remember the fuss when Vista arrived and the drivers didn't? Well, MS obviously enjoyed the experience because they are about to do it again. x64 missing is a big issue, but it sounds (from the article) that this will be added later (so long as it is not a long time off, within a year is needed). Lack of modern OGL support is pretty poor and will be an issue in many situations. 1.1? How old??? Considering the number of years they've been working on a pocketable mobile Surface I would have expected SOME polish at least. There is one good outcome though. With these kind of restrictions, the price of this device will have to be to be commensurate with the functionality which should make the price practical for use in public.
  • Adding x64 emulation support would be an extremely bad decision, as developers would have no incentive to compile for ARM64. x86 emulation should only be a stop-gap solution. Regarding OpenGL, its apparently not finished but can be added anytime by an update. I assume both Microsoft and Qualcomm concentrated on getting the DirectX HW drivers ready in time.
  • That argument is exactly the same one trotted out with Windows Phones, add x86 and why will developers make proper native ARM apps? Turns out, that trick doesn't work. Nice to hear OGL is coming, but considering this device has had the longest run up in history it should not be released in the Windows 10 mobile state with a long list of stuff they still haven't finished. They've had quite enough time, this release really ought to be actually ready before being sold unlike the last.
  • Regarding OpenGL, Microsoft never released any higher OpenGL version than 1.1 on any Windows SKU. Its up to Qualcomm to release a driver. So technically OpenGL is finished from Windows Point of view. This leaves Hyper-V as the only open item - contrary to your "long list of stuff they havent finished" Besides for Windows Phone the issue was precisely the other way around. Developers did ONLY ARM apps an no x86 apps.
  • This is pretty minor stuff. At least for the Tablets and budget notebook  market. But I guess some people are gonna complain no matter what. A large part of the tablet and budget notbook market is 32bit anyway and no one complains, drivers support is like Window 10S so it's just really old drivers that might have issue, DirectX 9, DirectX 10, DirectX 11, and DirectX 12 are all supported, and anyone who uses virtualization would be technical enought that you wouldn't need to explain anything. So the vast majority of apps and games and drives will work. I'd just keep calling it  Windows 10S.
  • Yea, I remember when Windows Vista came out with limited driver support. Way better than this device will have, but limited. Everyone loved it and flocked to Vista because of the driver availability. The fact it struggled with the peripherals people owned was always quoted as the main draw to this popular OS. I can see it working just as well this time round. Same with WinRT and the excellent driver availability, it was such a special experience getting that to print. How we loved buying new peripherals for Vista and RT, and we get to do it all over again? How exciting! Ol' Nads is just so smart.
  • Maybe I'm living on another planet or something, but how many peripherals are people expecting to connect to an arm based laptop? Also how many windows games have an oengl only rendriren engine. I gonna day these problems...are not serious
  • You seriously think that the average Joe at Best Buy is going to storm off because they can't run Hyper-V (or any of these other rather technical limitations)? They will never have heard of it and could care even less.
  • No, of course not. When their apps and peripherals don't work because of driver issues, that is a different story though.
  • All manufacturers need to do is port the drivers to ARM64 and those peripherals will work and I suspect that the vast majority of manufacturers are already doing this so its really a moot point that they won't work, same goes for apps.
  • @neo158, absolutely right. Add to that the fact that 100% of the computers shipping with Windows on Arm are laptops that include all their own drivers and this is almost completely a non-issue. The only exception would be some scanners or other devices which some users MIGHT want to connect to a laptop, but that's a pretty small portion of the population. Drivers are generally an issue for desktop systems.
  • Yep, pretty much just an issue for desktop systems. And for systems with USB ports, but just those. Just desktop systems and those with USB ports. Oh, and devices that connect to wireless networked devices like printers. Just desktops, and devices with USB ports, and devices that connect to wireless peripherals. Practically nothing does this crazy exotic stuff so we're going to be fine. Phew!
  • Most peripherals worked perfectly well on Windows RT using the generic drivers within Windows so maybe this is even less of a big deal than requiring manufacturers to port?
  • Blimey, a more sarcastic post than mine. You are hilarious.
  • Lol, there actually is no difference, as the same limitations hold for x64/x86 Windows as well. The exception are the OpenGL and Hyper-V limitation, which can be fixed in SW. Pure technically, x86 Windows is even more limited, as it cannot run ARM code, while Windows on ARM can run x86 code.
  • I think it not only is x64 drivers but x86 as well if I read the text correct
  • Yeah, they would have to be ported to ARM64 just like x86 drivers have to be ported to x64.
  • Those look like quite a few drawbacks. Wouldn't they get a more power efficient Windows by modernizing and making it modular at a faster speed get them the same results?
  • Windows RT 2.0 is here. Well, I guess it might be here "soon"©.
  • And the resident troll has arrived to spread doom and gloom in the comments of an article about a product that hasn't even been released yet!!!!
  • It's funny. You compare two operating systems that have nothing in common accept the ARM platform.
  • They are both called Windows and they both are gimped versions of actual Windows. Actually, they sound quite similar.
  • You have no clue at all. That drivers need to be native is a restriction of all Windows versions including Windows for x86/x64. So are you really claiming that Windows x64 is also gimped because it does not run x86 or ARM drivers?
  • It isn't full Windows as has been claimed. It is a limited version of Windows and we will not know the exact limitations until we actually get these devices in hand. Maybe it isn't a big deal.
  • Did you understand what i wrote? Apparently not, because you have the same limitation in every single Windows SKU so these limitations are not even new - device drivers have to be native. The exceptions are the missing OpenGL driver and missing Hyper-V - barely deal breakers.
  • Well said. Also, these ARM devices are NB, small screen or dual screen pre-builds. Drivers will be supplied by OEMs.
    Hyper-V usage is prob niche and most Windows games support DX anyway.
  • Common neo we were all hoping for the unicorn device that did every thing we could put in our pocket... You know nadells super device...with these limitations this is a failed device.
  • Only for people who would really care about those things, the average user isn't going to care about half of it anyway. No average user uses Hyper-V anyway and how many of those average users had Windows Phones?
  • Well no surprise with these limitations. It was always gng to be a tradeoff. The so called andromeda device is gng to be niche n not a super device as ward wud like us to believe 
  • Pocketable device powerful enough to run desktop software, make phone calls and still have the battery life you'd expect from any other ordinary phone. Pretty damn spectacular even with the limitations.  On a laptop form factor...meh.  Small tablet...take my money.
  • Can you type correctly.  GNG and WUD are not werdz....thanks!  If you are going to troll,  please do so correctly.
  • For me, the first question to ask is what are the usage scenarios/use cases for a WinARM device? Right now I have an Android smartphone (on ARM). I have a handful of apps on it for personal use (e.g. United Airlines app) and have had some like Authenticators for my enterprise apps (2 factor auth). I have several News readers, and can use the web browsers for keeping up with info 'on the go' for my favorite sports and suchlike. I also own a Chromecast, but I'm not about to use streaming from my smartphone to my TV - if I do, I use a laptop or desktop running Windows to do that. Possibly there are Millenials who base their entire life off using just a smartphone and the apps on it, but I don't and can't. I don't do any 'creation' on my smartphone (e.g. use it to modify Office docs) other than taking photos and updating some OneNote lists etc. I also never print from my smartphone; I believe there is an HP app that would help me do so and the HP printer I have has a mode to allow printing from such devices. But in general, I use my laptop/desktop to do any scanning and printing; and for that I have installed the HP drivers (and they have a nice Win10 app now for status). My laptop is a Surface that I mainly use as a tablet; mainly, browsing. I have UWP apps for ESPN, Fox Sports Go and NBC Sports where I can stream TV/sports or use the browser (which I use Chrome, see Chromecast). It has full Office. So WinARM is going to have issues with device drivers, like my printer/scanner. HP are terrible with supporting older devices even on standard Windows. As such then it can't take the place of my current Surface device. I'm going to assume I could load either x86 Office and emulate or there will be a natively ARM compiled Office or the web apps I could use. But lack of integration with the devices is a showstopper. It can take the place of the smartphone and tablet for the web browsing, but can I get the apps I need/want? Will I get a WinARM version of Chrome? Again, no guarantee of those. I play a good deal of games that I either install directly or via Steam (none are UWP apps). I also have device drivers I need for those for controllers. Most of those games are now x64 programs. I don't currently use VR, but would like to. So obviously, I can't use WinARM as a gaming device, it won't replace my desktop and won't support the powerful graphics I need. MS got put into a bit of a difficult position when Intel decided to drop Atom and its very low powered SoC devices. It really wanted this for both smartphones and tablets and low-end laptops, since it provided full backward compatibility. WinRT had no almost no backward compatibility, and that killed it. WinARM solves one compatibility problem (x86) but others still remain; lack of apps and lack of device driver support. There's some decent advantages to be able to synch my mobile devices and fixed devices but I can manage now with my Android phone and manual workarounds. My sister has an older dog-slow Android tablet that she wants to replace, and also has an Android smartphone. She also has a Win10 laptop that is also a bit old/slow. Could I in all conscience point her to a WinARM device to replace the tablet+laptop? Not so sure I can. There's a clear market opportunity there, but WinARM doesn't currently tick enough boxes.
  • This is the thing, no one outside Microsoft knows who these devices will be aimed at yet, I would guess schools who want a low cost device for a handful of apps and the netbook crowd who want a device for web browsing, email, facebook and a bit of light gaming. Given time to mature most if not all of the technical restrictions will disappear anyway.
  • That's my point. If I take the two different users - me and my sister - you've covered a great majority of 'normal users' of PCs. Me, as more of a super-user (I work in IT) and my sister who most definitely isn't. OK, it doesn't work for me, but if it also doesn't work for her, who does it work for? My sister originally enjoyed the tablet as a bit more portable method to stream content (local copies of MP3s for instance), and she had a couple of apps she found to fulfill a few needs (she does arts/crafts) and she uses Whatsapp to communicate with her friends. I believe there is a UWP Whatsapp (and UWP Facebook, I don't use that either). But eventually that tablet just had enough problems, and enough limitations on things like scanning/printing that she could only do on her laptop, that she has now virtually abandoned that tablet. I'll also guess a lot of people have gotten smart TVs or solutions like Chromecast now that fulfill some of the prior streaming needs, that they don't need either the tablet or laptop to do it. So I go back to my usage scenarios. The first is mobile; I want to have always-on access to certain things like my travel apps, banking apps, communications apps and my Android smartphone ably covers all these. MS still has a massive app gap, I can't do virtually any of the above natively in a Windows Phone solution (other than through a browser). The tablet is a partly-mobile solution but often limited to WiFi so not always-on, but it has a larger form factor better suited to content consumption and can use the same apps as I'd use on the smartphone. The laptop is very similar proposition to the tablet, but offers better solutions for mousing/typing and a few other use cases; but it brings its apps from the PC end of the spectrum. The desktop offers a much larger screen and fixed locations and power to spare. MS have to be targetting this to the mobile world; but not directly to a phone. Is it enough simply to have always-on, to now replace the tablet/laptop? I think this is the gamble. But the solution they have proposed fully replaces neither one - laptops with PC/hardware compatibility, tablets with smartphone app compatibility. I think people have pulled back from tablets because they got shoehorned into a situation where they didn't yet truly challenge laptops, but smartphones got a bit bigger and retained all its advantages. When was the last time you saw new, more powerful Android tablets get introduced? Why are people still trying to tout laptop-replacement with iPad PRO etc. but those aren't getting there in significant numbers? There are reasons, and WinARM doesn't address them. Like I said, app availability, and device compatibility.
  • I'm of the opinion that we should wait and see as not everyone is a pro computer user and that's what most of us on here forget and the limitations are actually quite sensible. Drivers have to be native, I can't run x86 or ARM drivers on my x64 OS and an x86 OS can't run x64 or ARM drivers so why would people think that Windows on ARM should be able to use x86 and ARM drivers. OpenGL needs to have support in the Graphics Drivers so I think that can be resolved fairly easily with a driver update and an ARM version of OpenGL. App issues aren't that much of a problem either as developers just need to update their apps to take advantage on WoA.
  • Why would you care if your printer is supported out-of-the box? You could check this before you buy. You currently cannot get any similar device, which is always on and always connected with similar battery duration in the same form factor from the Intel camp - that is the point of these devices.
  • Exactly, not sure why people think that a brand new printer that has just been released would have drivers built into the OS already.
  • My usage.
    1. dock it on a gamepad for portable gaming. Some light weight XPA should run fine.
    2. PC version Edge + extension & snc. I'll be syncing my code to do automation, stop vid autoplay, hide things I don't wanna see, enhancement, etc.
    3. Inking, quick sketch, occasional Photoshop
    4. OneDrive on Demand to carry more files than a HDD can hold.
    5. Don't think I can run a Unreal or Dx+Havok but I'd love to do some lite programming.
  • Dead on arrival. Developers have all left. Nobody cares about Windows about except those that have to. This vibe resonates through all mainstream media. If you haven't noticed that, get out of your bubble. It doesn't matter what we nerds think or want. Windows is dead under Nutella.
  • Then why are you still here if you dislike Windows so much?
  • We like Windows, not these pseudo Windows machine that Microsoft keeps trying to sneak into people's hands.
  • I've never heard of a bread called Windows, such that it dies when it comes in contact with nutella.
    Please where can I buy such bread?
  • Actually, I think you have inadvertently hit the nail on the head with this troll comment. You can extract the Michael out of Ballmer for many things, but he did understand one thing; its all about Developers, Developers, Developers. Developers abandoned MS, and went for iOS or Android instead, for the smartphone market (which is now bigger than the PC market). MS took too long to develop a solution where you could run an app on both desktop and smartphone. But, they've been handed a lifeline. And that is, there are really 3 platforms supported: web sites, iOS and Android. And the developers don't liek having to do work 3 times over. They have to support the web because it is currently the default "all other" solution. But soon, we are going to have PWAs. If everyone redevelops their web sites using PWAs, then having to have app platforms like iOS and Android get negated. Develop once, run anywhere. Windows 10 will natively support PWAs next release, including repackaging them as UWPs and providing a Store to search for them/install them. Plus you could run AAA games natively (PC or Xbox), which neither iOS nor Android has.
  • Real apps > PWA's which are basically a fancy version of web wrappers. Plus most developers already have apps on iOS and Android. Why spend the time creating PWA's when they already have spent the money and time on writing a real app. Plus real apps have a design consistency based on their OS which PWA's will not.
  • Windows has 90% of computer OS market. iPad Pro is not a computer and not pocketable. WoA surface not-phone is a full PC in my pocket, "nobody cares" about the soon to be obsolete tech in your pocket. This is the device Isaac Asimov and Gene Roddenberry dreamed of.
  • Smartphones are taking over many tasks that only desktop PCs could do not long ago. If you consider all PC platforms, including mobile, Microsoft isn't even 20%. iPhone alone matches Windows sales.
  • Some of these should be fixed as time goes by.
  • Indeed, I hope so. Mind you, I hoped that would happen with Windows Phone. Looks like I'll be going round again...
  • WinPhone's dead from the start. No user no dev, no dev no user, it's not a Windows and there's competitions (Android & iOS).
    Win10 on ARM is a Windows (same API for devs), HyperV is prob niche. How many Windows games support only OpenGL? Driver... OEM will supply dirvers for their pre-builds. And we don't need traditional application on these thing, esp nowadays. It's either web or UWP.
  • There is one typo "Micrsooft".
  • Is ARM for windows a different architecture than ARM for smartphones? I've always wondered this. People keep talking about the next 8** ARM chip in the next smartphone like there's no tomorrow, whilst microsoft seems to open a revolutonary story about putting a pc OS on a mobile chip. It's like two different worlds on the same chip. I'm surprised there's not more crosstalk about this new family of Qualcom chips and the amazing 10 nm threshold. Is Microsoft on a pursuit to discover the threshold of the ARM chip family, or are other companies "under-using" the potential of the current Qualcom chips (exploitation of the high end chips and less bang for your buck?) Interesting food for thought.