We already know that the new Macs powered by the M1 chip have impressive performance that beats almost all current Intel-based Macs, but what about Windows PCs? PCWorld compared Microsoft’s Surface Pro X to Apple’s new MacBook Air M1, and the results put the Surface tablet far behind the Mac.
Although Windows runs on ARM-based machines, not many of them are currently available to consumers. Microsoft’s Surface Pro X tablet is one of them, with an ARM chip created in collaboration between Microsoft and Qualcomm.
As pointed out by PCWorld, a huge limitation of Windows on ARM machines is that the operating system was limited to running 32-bit emulated X86 software. In other words, the system was unable to emulate and run 64-bit apps built for AMD and Intel processors.
32-bit software runs at significantly lower performance, and Apple got rid of it in 2019 with macOS Catalina. At the same time, Apple introduced Rosetta 2 technology for the new Mac M1, which essentially translates any software created for Intel Macs into an ARM binary that works best on Apple Silicon-based computers.
Microsoft recently released a beta version of Windows that offers emulation for 64-bit X86 software, but the performance isn’t even close to that of newer Macs with the M1 chip. In a Geekbench 5 test, the Surface Pro X was surpassed by the new M1 MacBook Air and ranked behind a budget HP Pavilion laptop with an Intel Core i5 processor.
Another test was performed with HandBrake, an open source video transcoding software. While the new MacBook Air with M1 chip converted a 12-minute 4K video to an H.265 1080p format in about 23 minutes, the Surface Pro X ARM took 2 hours to complete the same task.
The SQ1 moved at around one frame per second, taking around two hours to transcode a 12-minute 4K video, Tears of Steel, into an H.265 1080p format. Apple’s MacBook M1 simply wipes out the Surface Pro X.
At the end of the day, even with the improvements Microsoft has made on Windows, ARM machines are at a disadvantage over Mac M1s. Based on its tests, PCWorld states that “Windows on Arm needs a miracle” to achieve the performance of the new Macs with Apple Silicon chips.
But it’s hard to believe that further development will bridge the vast performance gap between Windows on Arm and Apple’s M1-based Macs. In six months, Microsoft may be able to brag that its emulation performance has improved by a significant amount. But without the combined miracle of a much better CPU from Qualcomm or another Arm chip maker and continuous improvements from Microsoft, the future of Windows on Arm looks bleak.
Interestingly, the developers were able to emulate Windows 10 on the Mac M1, and the Mac scored better in a Geekbench test than the Surface Pro X running Windows 10 natively on ARM.
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