I’m Excited for the Next Generation of Windows on ARM as a Laptop Reviewer

Qualcomm

I was initially doubtful when I heard that Apple was integrating ARM into its MacBook lineup. Despite the evidence in the Geekbench scores, I thought it was impossible for smartphone chips to compete with Intel CPUs. However, all my assumptions have been disproven since then.

The reason for this is that ARM can be extremely rapid when constructed correctly and integrated with the OS, while also being incredibly efficient. My MacBook Pro 16 with the M3 Max chipset is extremely quick and can last me two days between charges. Given this, I have high expectations for the next generation of Windows laptops on ARM.

Nothing exceptional so far

Mark Coppock / Digital Trends

Windows on ARM has had a challenging history at best. The last Windows laptop we assessed that ran on an ARM chipset was the Lenovo ThinkPad X13s in 2022. It was a laptop based on Qualcomm’s most recent ARM-based system-on-a-chip (SoC) for laptops, the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3. The ThinkPad X13s operates on Windows 11 ARM and is still available for purchase on Lenovo’s website.

I wasn’t particularly impressed with the laptop during my review. Despite the excellent battery life, quiet and cool operation, and slim and lightweight design, it was slow and suffered from a lack of application compatibility. This is crucial, as Windows on ARM executes legacy applications through emulation unless specific ARM versions have been developed. These applications are rare and primarily limited to Microsoft’s suite. I was able to run several benchmarks on the ThinkPad X13s, but they ran slowly and lacked optimization due to the emulation engine’s overhead.

When comparing the Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3 to Apple Silicon, which has numerous native apps and incredibly rapid M3 chipsets, the Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3 does not measure up. This is also the case when compared to Intel’s latest 14th-gen Meteor Lake chipsets.

Geekbench 5
(single / multi)
Handbrake
(seconds)
Cinebench R23
(single / multi)
Lenovo ThinkPad X13s
(Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3)
1,087 / 5,643 505 594 / 2,506
Apple MacBook Air
(M2)
1,925 / 8,973 151 1,600 / 7,938
iMac
(M3)
N/A 112 1,905 / 9,754
Asus Zenbook 14 OLED 2024
(Core Ultra 7 155H)
1,721 / 12,575 80 1,793 / 12,745

While the performance of the ThinkPad X13s is lagging, the battery life isn’t exceptional. The latest Snapdragon chipset offers good but not outstanding battery life, falling behind the MacBook Air M2 and earlier, slower Snapdragon chipsets like the original Snapdragon 8cx.

Even the Asus Zenbook 14 OLED with the Meteor Lake Core Ultra 7 155H lasted nearly as long looping our test video, while its web-browsing longevity was shorter. However, other, faster Intel chips run longer in this test and rival the Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3.

Web browsing Video
Lenovo ThinkPad X13s
(Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3)
11 hours, 48 minutes 19 hours, 39 minutes
Apple MacBook Air M2
(Apple M2)
17 hours, 59 minutes 21 hours, 9 minutes
Lenovo Flex 5G
(Snapdragon 8cx)
17 hours, 17 minutes 27 hours, 57 minutes
Asus Zenbook 14 OLED
(Core Ultra 7 155H)
7 hours, 9 minutes 19 hours, 5 minutes

What’s unique this time?

Fionna Agomuoh / Digital Trends

Given my experience, why am I more enthusiastic this time?

First, Qualcomm’s Snapdragon X Elite guarantees a much more competitive performance. The SoC pairs the company’s 12-core Oryon CPU with its latest Adreno GPU, which Qualcomm promises will offer significantly faster performance. Additionally, the Snapdragon X Elite employs Qualcomm’s AI Engine with its Hexagon Neural Processing Unit (NPU), matching Intel’s Meteor Lake NPU and Apple Silicon’s Neural Engine. As on-chip AI becomes more important, all three chipsets will be well-positioned.

It’s still early, but Qualcomm promises faster single-core performance than the Apple M3, along with 21% faster multi-core performance. This is quite a claim. Qualcomm also states that its Oryon CPU is faster than Intel’s Meteor Lake processors, and as of October 2023, the company reported that its SoC consumes 30% less power than Apple’s M2.

Equally important, the first laptops utilizing the Snapdragon X Elite will launch with the upcoming version of Windows, codenamed Germanium. This aligns with rumors that Microsoft’s next version of Surface laptops, which will feature Qualcomm’s chipset, will also be released at the same time.

We don’t have specific details, but it’s reasonable to expect that Microsoft will incorporate Windows on ARM improvements to ensure its Surface devices deliver strong performance. The integration will be crucial: One of Apple’s major advantages is its control over both the software and the hardware, allowing for optimization of both.

Andrew Martonik / Digital Trends

We don’t know how the Snapdragon X Elite will perform in terms of its GPU. The base M3 includes that chipset’s GPU improvements with Dynamic Caching, mesh shading, and hardware-assisted ray tracking, while Intel’s Arc integrated graphics offer roughly twice the performance of its previous Iris Xe graphics. Neither offers the speeds of faster discrete Nvidia and AMD GPUs, nor Apple’s M3 Max with its 30 or 40 GPU cores. but then again, they’re aimed primarily at productivity users and media consumers, not gamers and creative professionals.

I hope that, finally, Qualcomm and Microsoft will succeed in building a Windows on ARM hardware

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