Microsoft Arm-Powered Windows 10 PCs: What’s the Difference?

By Roger Murray | February 26th, 2018

Microsoft unveiled their first ARM-powered Windows 10 laptops back in December.  Windows 10 on ARM is a reboot of Microsoft’s earlier attempts to meld mobile processors with full laptop experiences.  Anyone recall Windows RT? While it looked just like Windows, there were quite a few features and capabilities users expected but were absent.  While the latest release promises a robust Windows 10 experience that is nearly identical to x86-based systems, there are some key differences & limitations to keep in mind.

Windows 10 on ARM Limitations

Microsoft published a complete list of the limitations of Windows 10 on ARM.  The word – limitations – is important because it isn’t how Windows 10 on ARM differs from Windows 10 on traditional x86-based systems.  It’s more of how it is more limited.  These include:

64-Bit Apps Will Not Work – Yes, Windows 10 on ARM can run Windows desktop applications. But only 32-bit (x86) desktop applications, not 64-bit (x64) applications.

Certain Classes of Apps Will Not Run – Utilities that modify the Windows user interface – like shell extensions, input method editors (IMEs), assistive technologies, and cloud storage apps – will not work in Windows 10 on ARM. They will need to be recompiled.

It Cannot Use x86 Drivers – While Windows 10 on ARM can run x86 Windows applications, it cannot utilize x86 drivers. Instead, it will require native ARM 64 drivers.  This means that hardware support will be more limited than is the case with mainstream Windows 10 versions. Similar to how Windows 10 S does today.

No Hyper-V – This was previously a very gray area – phrases like “its just Windows 10, so it will work” were quoted countless times – but now that the products are launching it has been confirmed that Hyper-V will not be supported.

Older Games & Graphics Apps May Not Work – Windows 10 on ARM supports DirectX 9, DirectX 10, DirectX 11, & DirectX 12, but apps/games that target older versions will not work. Apps that require hardware-accelerated OpenGL will also not work.

The real differences with these machines are likely be felt once users have gotten a chance to work with them in everyday scenarios. Windows 10 on ARM does support most common apps and provide great everyday use.  Their emulation will allow downloads for most 32-bit exe files from the web and install them on Arm-powered laptops.  There are clearly limitations like those we’ve outlined above, but most applications should work without requiring a vast workaround or learning curve.

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