Microsoft has come up with some strange ideas over the years. The latest version, which has been available for some time, is running Windows again on ARM processors, using Qualcomm and some daring device manufacturers. This new Windows on ARM initiative was announced in 2016 and officially launched last year. Now we've got our hands on the very first Windows on ARM device, the HP Envy x2, for serious benchmarking.
The HP Envy x2 does not run an Intel or AMD x86 processor, but an ARM-based Qualcomm Snapdragon 835, the same system on a chip that is used by many of the flagship Android smartphones in 2017. Other Asus and Lenovo devices will soon be added that use the same SoC to achieve largely the same results.
Now you may remember Microsoft's attempt to get Windows to run on ARM hardware when Windows 8 starts with a variant of the operating system known as Windows RT. The infamous operating system and the products it was running on were embarrassing to Microsoft's embarrassment, and that was due to a simple fact: you couldn't run traditional x86 applications, so you were limited to the crappy and very limited Metro . Style apps in the Windows Store.
Things are different this time. The new Windows on ARM can run desktop x86 apps through emulation, which actually makes the entire platform useful. Apps in the Windows Store continue to offer the best experience because most UWP apps support ARM natively. However, if you need to run your favorite desktop apps, this should be possible in this new iteration.
… Provided you don't encounter the many limitations of Windows with ARM.
At least for now, only 32-bit apps can be emulated. Programs that only have a 64-bit version will not work at all. x86 drivers of any kind are not supported, which is fine for plug-and-play peripherals with generic Windows drivers. However, anything that requires a particular driver will only work if an ARM64 driver is available, which is unlikely.
The list of restrictions continues. Games using a newer version of OpenGL than 1.1 do not work, games with anticheat technology do not work, apps that customize Windows may not work, Hyper-V is not supported, and even some ARM apps that assume so is that you are using it A phone is not working for the time being.
So the question is, what works and how well does it work? We'll go through some benchmarks, first examine the emulated x86 and native ARM performance, and then discuss more general aspects on the platform. And boy, you're on the road with this one.
If you've seen our laptop cover before, we run a variety of benchmarks that cover many different common workloads. On Windows under ARM, however, the limitation of the platform means that a large part of these benchmarks do not work. Some did not work because they were only 64-bit, others did not work for unknown reasons. Some benchmarks that I normally run as a 64-bit app had to be downloaded again as a 32-bit app for them to work. Sometimes these still didn't work.
PCMark 8 works, but the creative test crashes and the work test takes so long that it makes no sense to run it. PCMark 10 starts, but the standard test is not supported. Cinebench R15 is only 64-bit and does not run. Today, Premiere is also a purely 64-bit app. Blender is a 32-bit version, but requires OpenGL 2.1 so it doesn't work. MATLAB recently stopped deploying a 32-bit version, but older x86 versions don't work. And Sandra doesn't work because I think an x86 driver needs to be used. That's eight benchmarks that didn't work while nine worked, roughly half.
My experience with real apps was a bit better because important apps like Chrome, Photoshop, Excel, Word, Netflix, Plex and Steam worked perfectly. Continue to the tests …