Windows on ARM laptops can finally compete with M1 MacBooks: Here's why

Microsoft Surface Pro X (SQ2, 2020) review
(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

Windows 10 on ARM is getting an injection of life through x64 app emulation. 

Up until now, PCs running on ARM-based processors, like the Surface Pro X or Lenovo Flex 5G, were incompatible with x86 64-bit apps. Microsoft's new 64-bit emulation, described in a recent blog post, will allow Windows on ARM devices to launch legacy software through a translator. 

It isn't an ideal solution but it does mean you won't get an error notification whenever you download an older program without an ARM or 32-bit version. What we don't know yet is how well the emulator works, and whether current ARM-based chips are powerful enough to run these apps through it. 

Microsoft's emulation attempts have paled in comparison to Apple's new Rosetta 2 emulator the M1 chip. As noted in our review of the Surface Pro X, even the newest Windows on ARM products, equipped with the latest chips, tend to struggle when running apps through emulation.  

In Microsoft's own words, "[On] any ARM64 processors, more software is involved in the emulation, and performance suffers as a result."  

We will test the x64 emulation when it launches to the public and updates our reviews of Windows on ARM products if the translator fixes compatibility issues without causing performance problems. And if that is the case, Microsoft and Windows PCs will have a pathway to putting up a fight against the new MacBook Air and MacBook Pro, two ARM-based laptops with exceptional performance running both native (or universal) and emulated apps. 

Microsoft released the preview of x64 emulation for ARM64 devices to Windows Insiders in the Dev Channel with Build 21277. You can follow the steps in this blog post to try it out for yourself. 

Phillip Tracy

Phillip Tracy is the assistant managing editor at Laptop Mag where he reviews laptops, phones and other gadgets while covering the latest industry news. After graduating with a journalism degree from the University of Texas at Austin, Phillip became a tech reporter at the Daily Dot. There, he wrote reviews for a range of gadgets and covered everything from social media trends to cybersecurity. Prior to that, he wrote for RCR Wireless News covering 5G and IoT. When he's not tinkering with devices, you can find Phillip playing video games, reading, traveling or watching soccer.