Windows 10 on ARM is here to stay whether you like it or not

For some reason, there are a fair few people out there who have something against Windows 10 on ARM. I've seen comments calling it slow, dumb, and "another Windows RT." It's most likely these people are just ill-informed because Windows 10 on ARM isn't any of those things. A lot of people seem to think this whole Windows on ARM thing will eventually blow over, but just this week Qualcomm and Microsoft announced a brand-new ARM processor specifically for Windows 10 on ARM devices. This is just the beginning of Windows' reign in ARM-based computing, meaning it's here to stay whether you like it or not.

Many people have been oddly fixated on the performance of emulated x86 apps on Windows 10 on ARM, and while it is slower than native performance, it isn't terrible in the slightest. I've been using Windows 10 on ARM for some time now, and I can say with confidence that the emulation layer is good enough for general use. Of course, this will depend on the type of apps you use, but that's fine for now because the emulation layer is only really there to catch any apps that haven't been compiled for ARM in this "soft-launch" period of ARM-based Windows 10 devices.

HP Envy x2 review

More ARM processors for Windows

The real push for Windows 10 on ARM starts later this year, with the Snapdragon 850. This is the first "proper" chip designed specifically for Windows 10 on ARM, and it brings with it lots of improvements that will make using Windows 10 on ARM devices much better. Using Windows 10 on ARM today with the Snapdragon 835 is fine, more than fine, in fact. I'd say it performs like an Intel Core i3 when using natively compiled software; that is the OS, inbox apps, and most Store apps. Windows 10 itself absolutely flies on a Snapdragon 835, with the only performance slowdowns happening with emulated apps.

This should improve over time thanks to more powerful processors, but it should also improve on the Snapdragon 835 devices too. Once Microsoft releases the updated SDK that allows developers to compile their apps for ARM, we should see many of them update their apps for native support on Windows 10 on ARM which will bring with it lots of performance improvements for those apps. This means that while Google Chrome today is slower on the Snapdragon 835, if Google compiles for ARM, that app will run natively and not have to be emulated, meaning it'll perform much faster.

App performance on the Snapdragon 835 will improve over time.

We should start seeing more apps compiled for ARM around the same time the Snapdragon 850 launches, so that when these new Snapdragon 850 powered devices launch, there will already be a plethora of apps that support it natively. And even if an app doesn't natively support it, it will still run in the emulation layer, and faster, thanks to the Snapdragon 850's improved performance. It's important to not forget that Windows 10 on ARM is just another architecture, it's not an entire new operating system that's locked to UWP. A developer can compile its legacy desktop app for ARM, and have it run on Windows 10 on ARM just like it does on Windows 10 x86.

So, while right now a lot of people seem to think Windows 10 on ARM is slow, that reputation shouldn't last long. When more Windows 10 on ARM devices start shipping later this year, most normal people won't even notice or care that the device they're buying is an ARM one. Even if developers don't compile their apps for ARM, the emulation layer will have them covered in most cases. And with rumors of a Snapdragon 1000 in the works for Windows 10 devices, things are only going to get better. A Snapdragon 1000 will be where things really start to get interesting.

It's here to stay

Windows 10 on ARM isn't going away. For most people, the future is lightweight mobile computing, and Windows 10 needs to be there. Microsoft is keeping Windows relevant by bringing Windows 10 to ARM as we further progress into this new era of lightweight computing. ARM is making its way into existing form factors, but will also power new form factors that don't yet exist that Windows absolutely needs to be a part of. Ignoring ARM would be a dumb idea.

I think a lot of the people who are speaking bad about Windows 10 on ARM don't understand what it is. It's just another architecture, simply put. Just like Windows 10 x86 and x64, Windows 10 ARM is another architecture that developers can compile for. And, although Microsoft has tried this before with Windows RT, there are a few fundamental differences that make these two attempts completely different. For starters, Windows RT was an ARM32 effort, whereas Windows 10 on ARM is ARM64.

Microsoft is committed to Windows 10 on ARM

Second, Windows RT was a closed platform. Yes, while Microsoft is trying to push developers into the Microsoft Store, Windows 10 on ARM devices isn't a closed platform and can run programs downloaded from anywhere, even for ARM compiled apps. So Google could compile Chrome for ARM and offer it on their website for users running Windows 10 on ARM to go and download. Again, it's just like Windows 10 on any other architecture. The Store is there if you want it, but otherwise you can download from wherever you like. Some of these ARM devices might come with Windows 10 S enabled by default, but these days you can turn that off with a simple switch.

If you're yet to try Windows 10 on ARM but have been turned off it because of comments from people saying it sucks, I'd give it a try before you make any final judgements. I absolutely love the HP Envy x2, with its instant-on capabilities and LTE everywhere, it's a new way of using Windows 10 and I absolutely love it. And look on the bright side, it's going to get better too. It definitely won't get worse. The only way is up.

Zac Bowden
Senior Editor

Zac Bowden is a Senior Editor at Windows Central. Bringing you exclusive coverage into the world of Windows 10 on PCs, tablets, phones, and more. Also an avid collector of rare Microsoft prototype devices! Keep in touch on Twitter: @zacbowden.

145 Comments
  • say the same insightful guys that "Windows Mobile is not dead, part 1 2 3 4 5"
  • Simple fact is traditional win32 developers won't be compiling their apps for ARM because the win32 use cases are generally meaningful on the desktop and laptops. No one is interested in making something like Photoshop "light weight" to run on a ARM CPU the same way not many developers brought their win32 apps to UWP. Why would they? The thing is though, ARM devices will be a part of the ecosystem. They won't bring a revolution, but they'll be there because they can run win32 through emulation. The idea is not dumb; it's just not the next big thing. It's just a thing.
  • "Simple fact is traditional win32 developers won't be compiling their apps for ARM because the win32 use cases are generally meaningful on the desktop and laptops."
    Aren't these laptops we're talking about? "No one is interested in making something like Photoshop "light weight" to run on a ARM CPU the same way not many developers brought their win32 apps to UWP."
    Those two are not even in the same league in terms of effort. Maybe not so much something like Photoshop but something like Chrome or Firefox? That would definitely make sense to compile and publish for ARM.
  • The fact is, almost none of the major developers will compile for ARM. Microsoft has tried this time and time again, and it simply won't work. Developers won't even publish apps in the Amazon app store even though it's the same code base as Android. I'm sorry, but most developers won't even take minimal effort to support Windows on ARM. The war to get developers to publish on Windows in general has already been lost, with exception to some applications that require more resources to run. The x86 emulation layer doesn't help when so many of the applications people use only exist on iOS & Android. Windows on ARM does absolutely nothing to address this issue.
  • Will take VLC as a major developer right! Or don't you?
  • VLC is an exception. They did the rare thing of bringing their app to Windows RT through a Kickstarter campaign.
    If you look at the UWP landscape, you can see quite a few developers actually leaving (just saw the Bank of America news I guess). If any real change is going to take place, it will be with PWAs. Win32 will remain the productivity tool that gets work done, Win32 emulation on ARM will be there to prevent another Windows RT fiasco, everything else will be delivered through PWAs. Recompiling what is currently Win32 to ARM will never become as big a thing as something like PWAs and companies realize there is no reason to bring big productivity tools to mobile devices running ARM. There is simply no justification for it.
  • I don't see why not. I remember days when they first developed multiprocessor motherboards to improve performance. Then came multi core processors. Nowadays even deca-core Arm processors are become quite common. How about say 4 deca-core Arm processor motherboards running Windows? You would have whole lot of more of processing power as compared to anything on present day i3 - i5 or even i7s. Over time even Adobe and Autocad will have to follow suit. There would be no penalty to pay to Intel - lame chipsets, USB and even SATA implementation. Lower hardware cost would be a major incentive for the end user. You may not be aware but there are a substantial number of Arm based fanless file, print and web servers already in operation. Remember Kodak was the king in photography until they went bankrupt. Today Intel is the king in processors. Who knows what tomorrow will bring.
  • Sure, but you're talking about a revolution in hardware that may result in a revolution in software. If suddenly Intel blew up and we were left only with ARM of course developers would have to compile even their oldest software for ARM.
    My point is they don't do it on their own justified by the "we are committed to ARM" Microsoft keeps throwing around.
  • @AgentTheGreat. Sorry no, PWAs won't be catching on until 5G or so. There is not enough global bandwidth and cellular infrastructure is not there yet in terms persistant, high speed and reliable connections. Plus you have entire fiasco with fast lanes for internet in the US. So no, PWAs aren't there yet. At present UWP and WoA is where it's at. Lastly, PWAs if poorly optimised can be battery hogs as they will need to poll for new data at set intervals. PWAs will not be able to replace complex applications only light weight apps. To address the complex application issue you either have a hybrid app solution or fix the connectivity and infrastructure - the latter is not happening anytime soon and the former is just not on parity what you gain with UWP. Most importantly, PWAs by nature are vulnerable to man in the middle attacks as they are progrssive web apps - keyword "web". So to address this every data packet will need comprehensive encryption and significant SoC cycles to decrypt on device. So your back to the bandwidth issue but now you have two more issues - battery drain and heat. Smartphones have limited heat dissipation and power budget for the SoC. Thus now you have a performance issue. It goes on and on. So no PWAs aren't there yet.
  • Microsoft has never tried this before. Previous efforts to have Windows software written for ARM failed because developers had to change to write a new code base, which was not worth their time in most cases. This is a different story. VLC is already available for ARM64 (yes, the full VLC) and the final version of the SDK isn't even out yet. Does this mean there will be a huge surge of ARM applications appearing when the SDK is out, certainly not. But you've got to start somewhere. "The x86 emulation layer doesn't help when so many of the applications people use only exist on iOS & Android. Windows on ARM does absolutely nothing to address this issue."
    You're right that it does nothing to address that issue because it's absolutely not supposed to. We're talking about classic Windows software here, what do Android and iOS have to do with it?
  • The Windows 10 on ARM platform has to gain traction first before they'll consider that. I don't know how hard it is to recompile an existing app to ARM64,, but it doesn't seem that difficult. Of course, with the x86 emulation later, developers can get lazy and simply tell people to use the 32-bit x86 version on it, which provides a subpar experience.
  • 32 bit x-86 version will always remain so long as portable apps remain popular. If I am going to carry my own applications to run on clients' machines I better have X-86 variety because X-64 versions simply won't run on 32 bit OS. Personally I prefer to use portable version if available, from a secondary volume, in stead of installed ones because it simply makes it easier for me to fix things.
  • I don't think it's so much that developers get "lazy", as it's more that things are never "easy". And they are certainly never as easy as advertised by Microsoft! I know I am a developer. But as a consumer too, I hope that developers will take the time to compile for ARM64. There has to be serious ROI though for a dev to take the time, because he/she's potentially adding to his maintenance and support costs if/when he's flooded with emails/phone calls should things "not go as planned", which they almost always never do. I really hope it's just a matter of pushing a button. :0) But I smile at that. ;0) Nevertheless... I do believe that we're seeing all consumer computing dividing into two camps "light computing" for 80% of the world's population (messaging, web, personal finance) and "heavy computing" for the other 20% (gamers, photographers, developers). 80% is a big number for developers to miss out on. That should be ROI enough! I 100% believe ACPCs running on ARM are the right move. It's the smartest thing MS has done in the Nadella era (which btw I am NOT a big fan of - but I must give him credit where credit is due). At least he's not waiting until 80% of the world's homes have either an iPad or Chromebook and then showing up late to the party with a 1/2 baked lame offering. ACPCs, especially on ARM, stand a real chance of keeping a PC in every home... and now that they are unshackled from wifi… in every car... in every backpack...
  • "Developers won't even publish apps in the Amazon app store even though it's the same code base as Android." No, it's not. Not completely, that is. Android as we know it is actually the sum of two different parts: Android Open Source Project (AOSP), the base, open sourced OS, and Play Services, a paid component (by OEMs, I think device users can download them free of charge, can't be sure) that packs Play Store, Google's apps (Gmail, Maps, Youtube, ...) and a plenthora of important APIs. There are many, MANY, Android apps that REQUIRE Play Services installed to work, so any Android variant that doesn't come with Play Services installed, like Amazon's Fire OS, will not be able to run them. Really, Play Services is how Google enforces its tight grip on the Android ecosystem.
  • Legacy app need more work done so it can be recompiled to ARM.
    If you are using 3rd party lib, middleware or dll, more work for you.
    Modern apps don't have that trouble. The bigger the app is the more time consuming.
  • You use Photoshop as an example, and fail to realize how Adobe have invested alot in UWP development, their latest big Application is UWP only on Windows, and they even sugested they might release an UWP version of Photoshop. Alot of devs are bridging apps to UWP. Alot of devs makes UWP apps, and quite a few high rating games have been released as UWP. Its growing, not as fast as MS would like, but growing still.
  • Maybe because there's alternatives in the store.
    I use Adobe but I heard good things about Afffinity (good functionality, no subscription).
  • I don't know why you tell everyone needs photoshop and other slow win32 programs in their laptop. Probably 95% of people don't. I like editing photos and I do it quite often, but for my needs the Polarr app from the store is super good, useful, enough and more.
  • Exactly Yattaboy. I have never used photoshop to edit ANY photo I have ever taken. I always used other means. Polarr being the latest software I use. I have sold photos, videos etc for profit, not once did someone complain about the quality etc. Remember it's not the tool, it's the eye. Now, I use various design programs that are legacy for my motorcycle/motorsports design business. There is no way around it. That area has held on to windows xp/7 as long as they can. That being said, I am using UWP for most everything in my business except for the plasma CNC and engine tuning software.
  • Agreed @yattaboy! I'd like to see an end to the "Photoshop Test" being the end-all-be-all touchstone. If people want Photoshop so bad... fine... just don't buy a "light computing" device. That's alright! Get yourself a Yoga 920 with an i7 or a Surface Book 2 instead. But for the other 80 of the population a "light computing" device is perfectly sufficient.
  • Call an OS what you will, it makes no difference to me. I care about usability, I like when companies are forward thinking and plan for expansion. RT has left such a bad taste in many people's mouths because it appeared to be headed down a dead end street leading to a nerfed OS like you get with ios and android. I know people who love those platforms don't see them as limited, but from a x86-64 viewpoint where gaming and graphic design gave users a whole lot of control to be creative and even mod open source programs its a whole different story. With recent advancements in hardware technology and gui scaleability theres no reason an OS need to be nerfed down to lame standards when you should be able to take your limited device and dock it up to a setup similar to a thunderbolt and enable the device's advanced capabilities. Scaleable Operating Systems is feasable and at some point we will only need one device instead of 3 or more.
  • It is only a matter of time I think. Someday, all devices will likely reduce to a single device.
  • Actually SentinHell, that was Windows phone, read as Windows-on-mobile, is not dead. I advocate persistently in those pieces that Microsoft was transitioning from a "Windows-on-phone" strategy to full "Windows-on-mobile" ultramobile PC form factor that is not a phone and even added to that argument that it would have an inking focus. This was **before** all of the Andromeda rumors that have since convinced naysayers that Microsoft is transitioning from a Windows-on-phone strategy to a Windows-on-mobile ultramobile PC form factor with an inking focus😉. Thus, in light of what was presented in those pieces and its accuracy in relation to the reality that is now unfolding, it seems that your sarcastic "insightful" comment, was actually an unintended, accidental, yet accurately applied, compliment.🙂 So, thank you😉 **Why Microsoft's Windows on mobile story is so profoundly confusing**
    https://m.windowscentral.com/microsoft-and-mobile-heres-why-story-ever-c...
  • Please stop it already. I guess you don't realise how stupid you sound everytime you come up with a new delusional theory. For once, leave windowscentral and check /r/Windows10, neowin or literally any place on the internet covering Windows related news you'll know what people say about your articles. Didn't know if it would ever come to this. Now, block me, ban me from this site or whatever, I don't care. I just thought you should know what's outside of Windows Central. Hint: It's not all sunshine and rainbows like it's made to appear here.
  • Hassan you must not be following recent news about Microsoft's project Andromeda. You can find numerous articles here at WC, hints of the same on the Verge, Thurrott has also written peices "Andromeda is real" as well as various other sites. Now, the reality of the project is not in dispute. If you are disputing that, now this is not meant to sound offensive, but you are out of touch with what is happening in Redmond. Now to some of the details of the project. It is Microsoft's venture into mobile beyond Windows phone or smartphones. A point I argued it would be.
    It is running a non phone Windows OS. A point I argued it would.
    It has an inking focus. A point I argued it would.
    It is small, portable. A point I argued it would be.
    Now, if you or anyone else has a problem with my articles that stated this is what was coming, and here it is, with more tangible evidence and even now the support of naysayers or those publications that argued Microsoft's mobile efforts were dead,now reporting Microsoft's mobile efforts are real/alive with Andromeda, then you and others don't have a problem with my articles, you have a problem with the reality that is unfolding before you. Granted, I understand many readers couldn't see what I was saying years ago leading up to now when there were no deluge of folding PC patents permeating social media and being published all over tech sites, no articles about Windows Core OS, or when people were smothered beneath the aggravation of Microsoft's silence about WM as people held hopefully onto thier phones, and during a time when virtually every other publication who couldnt see beyond WM were feeding shortsighted analysis to news hungry readers who greedily devoured them. So yes, I get why some readers THOUGHT my accurate description of what MS was doing was what you call "sunshine and rainbows." But no, it's not sunshine, nor rainbows...nor even unicorns. No Hassan, it's Andromeda.😉
  • I'll believe when I see them launch the device. I have lost all hope in Microsoft consumer market since they demoted Windows in favour of cloud. The result is clear.
  • And that's ok. 😉 You have every right to suspend your belief until you see it if you so desire. Microsoft has disappointed many of us along the way, self included with some of its decisions. I would just add that minus any negative feelings any of us may harbor toward Microsoft for its choices that may have negatively affected us, objective observation of its investments, business decisions, expressed and observable strategies, patents, sourced information and more, it is clear where Microsoft's mobile strategy has been and is leading. Feelings about the companies failures and choices are independent of what the company "is" doing. Simply because it has failed on many fronts (and also succeeded on many as well) and simply because many may feel any other mobile investments will fail is not sufficient evidence to say Microsoft is not investing in a small Windows PC with an inking focused. I'm not arguing the device is a guaranteed hit, nor that the category WILL succeed. What I have pressed from my position is Microsoft's strategy, what it is doing. And that's Project Andromeda, a small mobile PC with an inking focus is what it's doing. Now just as I've said in the past, I'll say again, like McLaren and Surface Mini, it CAN be canceled at the eleventh hour. But just as the McLaren and Surface Mini hardware have been show here on WC, those projects were real, planned, but cancelled. If, Project Andromeda is canceled, that takes nothing from my argument, it is a real project Microsoft is investing in to position itself in the mobile, not smartphone space. So, my position is not to make you believe, it's to make you aware of what is. You're beleif of not believing is up to you. But what ever you or others choose, it doesn't change what "is." 😉
  • it is not small mobile PC. it is a Tablet-phone
  • Maybe they can put it in a phone form factor as well then I can use it with a monitor and keyboard or my HP lapdock.. that would make it cheaper and go on to fulfill the "computer in your pocket" dream.... but that's just my thoughts I don't know what Microsoft is thinking.
  • I so wish Andromeda will be something like that. Windows 10 on ARM with x86 Emulation and full cellular capacity (i.e. phone calls too, not just LTE).
  • The first iteration wouldn't come with full cellular capability. The successor on the other will be different, possibly a device that would create a paradigm shift, potentially replacing (static) smartphones in market. Windows 10 ftw. 🎉
  • What u talkin bout Willis? Andromeda WILL have full telephony.
  • Nope. No it won't.
    The Snapdragon 950 variant only supports LTE.
    So you'd need VoLTE support from your carrier, or a VOIP account from a provider like Skype. And since SMS/MMS use the other bands (GSM/HSPA+), those won't work either.
  • If it doesn't make calls people like me wont buy it. We have been waiting on Microsoft so long for this, even buying things in hope that our support would spawn the end result of a fully capable device. I will not be buying anything new until it is what I actually want, til then my Elite x3 will have to do. If not I would rather have a flip phone than ios or droid. I vowed never to sell out to companies who want to keep their users in the dark or that nerf their older products to push you into buying new.
  • If the price of this device is as rumoured, you'll want a cheap dumb phone anyway for calls. No way you'll want to take your Andromeda not-Phone out of your pocket outside of home/office without some serious protection.
  • Vote me down if you like, but the fact remains that if you wave a 4 figure wad of cash around in the high-street, on the bus or down the pub you're not exactly the sharpest knife in the draw. You are quite likely to encounter the sharpest knife in the draw however...
  • Sounds like your first priority should be moving if you live in a such a place. Few people have those worries.
  • You better move out of the "gun free zone". Nobody is taking your phone away in New Hamps