For over a year we’ve been treated to the fantasy that Windows 10 on ARM was the same as Windows 10 on x86. But it’s a bit more nuanced than that.
Granted, we’ve known some of the differences from the beginning, and we’ve vaguely understood that there would be trade-offs for those moving to this new hardware platform. In particular, the performance of x86 apps, which would need to be emulated.
This week, however, Microsoft finally published a more complete list of the limitations of Windows 10 on ARM. And that word—limitations—is interesting. This isn’t how Windows 10 on ARM differs from Windows 10 on x86-based systems. It’s how it’s more limited.
And while we absolutely knew about some of these, the items on this list include.
64-bit apps will not work. Yes, Windows 10 on ARM can run Windows desktop applications. But it can only run 32-bit (x86) desktop applications, not 64-bit (x64) applications. (The documentation doesn’t note this, but support for x64 apps is planned for a future release.)
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 for ARM, and my guess is that this will not happen in most cases, especially in the next year.
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 ARM64 drivers instead. This means that hardware support will be much more limited than is the case with mainstream Windows 10 versions. In other words, it will likely work much like Windows 10 S does today.
No Hyper-V. This was a gray area previously—I’ve heard the phrase “it’s just Windows 10, so it will work” several times—but now it’s real: Hyper-V is not supported in Windows 10 on ARM.
Older games and graphics apps may not work. Windows 10 on ARM supports DirectX 9, DirectX 10, DirectX 11, and DirectX 12, but apps/games that target older versions will not work. Apps that require hardware-accelerated OpenGL will also not work.
That’s an interesting list and while it’s not completely damning, my months-long lackluster experiences with Windows 10 S suggest that the first year will be tough for many who do adopt this platform. As is so often the case with platform shifts, you’re best off sticking to new stuff and letting go of legacy, since much of the latter either won’t work, as noted here, or will run slowly.
Like many, I’m very interested in getting my hands on some ARM hardware to see what the experience is really like.