The ARM for Windows thing makes Windows interesting

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, May 22, 2024, 5:00 PM | comments: 0

Microsoft announced new ARM-based laptops this week, as did some other manufacturers. For the non-nerd, ARM processors use a different instruction set from the Intel CPU's that have been around forever. They're also what you find in phones and tablets, and they use way less power, often to do more work. Apple switched to these a couple of years ago, and it's the thing that drove me back to them for my current laptop (along with the return of good keyboards and multiple ports). I use it mostly for software development, and I charge it every few days, getting around 12 hours of useful battery life out of it. While still expensive, I felt like I was at least getting something substantial for my money.

There have been some "meh" computers running Windows on ARM chips, but the operating system wasn't really optimized for it, and the emulation for software meant to run on Intel CPU's was just OK. (Macs have this as well, since they used to use Intel.) Qualcomm stepped up its game with new Snapdragon CPU's for this new wave of Windows computers, and the initial impression is that they are game changers in terms of power consumption versus computing power. The other thing is that the cost is substantially lower than the various Mac offerings, in terms of RAM and storage. The price points are similar, but as in the old Intel days for both, you pay a ton for more RAM or storage on a Mac.

Mind you, the Intel based Windows laptops were already pretty good if you weren't gaming. The Asus with two screens that I bought two months ago, specifically for my lighting endeavor, is a great machine that's loaded to a ridiculous degree. I don't have any dev software on it, but anecdotally it looks like non-gaming (and non-lighting) activity will get you at least 8 hours of battery life, and maybe more. But when you do game, it gets warm, and the fans audibly blow.

I'm happy with my 16" M2 MacBook Pro, and I suspect it will last a good long time. That might be a problem for Apple though. They just released the M4 processors, starting in the iPad Pro (a weird choice), and the critical response has been, "This is the same as my M2 machine, I can't tell the difference." In other words, yes, the hardware is more powerful, but the power isn't necessary. Their whole business seems predicated on periodic upgrading (I've been salty about iPads being forcibly made obsolete), so what happens when what you have is fine?

Whether or not this phenomenon translates to Windows on ARM is hard to tell. First off, we have to see if games will be recompiled to take advantage of ARM, and from there, what graphics hardware will go with it? Gaming seems to be the driver of performance on the Windows side, especially since Apple stubbornly hasn't done much to push gaming on the Mac.

It should be an interesting time though, and I sure wouldn't invest in Intel right now. Cheap but nice Windows laptops may stimulate some growth there.


No comments yet.

Post your comment: