The highly-successful and highly-praised launch of Apple’s M1 MacBook showed what ARM-powered computers can be capable of with the right combination of hardware and software. Unfortunately for Microsoft, it resulted in renewed scrutiny, comparisons, and criticisms of its own attempts at bringing Windows to ARM PCs. It hasn’t given up yet and although still far from the ideal, it is slowly moving towards improving Windows 10 on ARM’s capabilities, like this latest preview that finally lets 64-bit x86/x64 Windows software run on its own Surface Pro X.
Although Microsoft has had more experience with ARM-powered devices than Apple, it actually hasn’t had much success in bringing its operating system to the computing architecture. Windows 10 on ARM, which is more optimized for Qualcomm’s Snapdragons actually, still left much to be desired when it came to performance. It’s even worse when you had to factor in x86 emulation, which naturally incurred performance penalties.
The situation has definitely gotten better on that front but that x86 emulation had other problems. It was limited to supporting only the older generation of 32-bit Windows software which Microsoft defends as making up the majority of apps that Windows users need. That, however, left out more modern and more powerful 64-bit only Windows programs that can take advantage of more hardware capabilities, especially more RAM.
Microsoft is now proudly announcing the arrival of x64 emulation on Windows 10 on ARM, though it’s still in preview and available only to Windows Insiders for now. This opens the door for apps like 64-bit Autodesk Sketchbook and Google Chrome to run in their full form on ARM-based Windows computers. Microsoft recommends upgrading to Qualcomm’s latest Adreno graphics drivers for the Surface Pro X, Samsung Galaxy Book S, and Lenovo Flex 5G.
Curiously, this announcement could actually have important implications for M1 Macs. A developer recently showed how x86 emulation on Windows 10 on ARM running on an M1 Mac actually had decent performance but naturally couldn’t run 64-bit Windows programs. It would be interesting to see if this update will change that though, again, it would ironically put Microsoft in a worse light.