We already know that the new Macs powered by the M1 chip have impressive performance that beats nearly all current Macs with Intel processors, but what about Windows PCs? PCWorld compared Microsoft’s Surface Pro X with Apple’s new M1 MacBook Air 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 partnership between Microsoft and Qualcomm.
As pointed out by PCWorld, a huge limitation of Windows on ARM machines is that the operating system was restricted to running emulated 32-bit X86 software. In other words, the system wasn’t able to emulate and run 64-bit apps created for AMD and Intel processors.
32-bit software runs at significantly lower performance — and Apple got rid of them in 2019 with macOS Catalina. At the same time, Apple has introduced the Rosetta 2 technology for the new M1 Macs, which basically translates every software created for Intel Macs into an ARM binary that runs better on Apple Silicon-based computers.
Microsoft recently released a beta version of Windows that features emulation for 64-bit X86 software, but still the performance isn’t even close to the new Macs with the M1 chip. In a Geekbench 5 test, Surface Pro X was outperformed by the new M1 MacBook Air and also ranked behind a cheap HP Pavilion laptop running with an Intel Core i5 processor.
Another test was performed with HandBrake, an open-source software for transcoding videos. While the new MacBook Air with M1 chip converted a 12-minute 4K video to a 1080p H.265 format in about 23 minutes, Surface Pro X ARM took 2 hours to complete the same operation.
The SQ1 chugged along at about a frame per second, taking about two hours to transcode a 12-minute 4K video, Tears of Steel, into a 1080p H.265 format. Apple’s MacBook M1 simply blows away the Surface Pro X.
At the end of the day, even with the improvements Microsoft has been doing on Windows, ARM machines are at a disadvantage compared to M1 Macs. Based on its tests, PCWorld says that “Windows on Arm needs a miracle” to achieve the performance of the new Macs with Apple Silicon chip.
But it’s hard to believe that further development will bridge the vast gulf of performance between Windows on Arm and Apple’s M1-based Macs. In six months, Microsoft may be able to boast 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 chipmaker and continued improvements from Microsoft, the future of Windows on Arm looks grim.