Surface (2012 tablet)

What Is Windows 10 on ARM, and How is It Different From Windows RT?

Microsoft is working on a version of Windows 10 that will run on ARM hardware. Unlike Windows RT, the version of Windows 8 that powered the original Surface and Surface 2, this will be a full version of Windows 10 with an emulation layer that allows it to run traditional desktop apps from outside the Windows Store.

Why Is Microsoft Putting Windows 10 on ARM?

ARM PCs have some advantages over x86 ones. They have built-in LTE cellular connectivity, often offer better battery life than Intel and AMD CPUs, and the hardware is less expensive for manufacturers. Future ARM CPUs could pull even more ahead of Intel and AMD CPUs and offer much more battery life, for example.

Microsoft would like Windows 10 to run on ARM hardware so it can reap those benefits. Sure, you probably won’t use an ARM desktop any time soon, but ARM could be a great choice for tablets, 2-in-1 convertibles, and even smaller laptops.

Rather than creating a more limited version of Windows for this platform, Microsoft has decided to release a full version of Windows 10 for ARM hardware, one that can even run traditional Windows desktop applications.

Microsoft first announced a partnership with Qualcomm to create Windows on ARM at WinHEC in December, 2016.

It Can Run x86 Desktop Programs

This isn’t just Windows RT all over again. Windows RT didn’t allow you to run traditional desktop software. It even blocked developers from compiling their desktop applications for ARM processors and offering them to users. Windows RT only allowed apps from the Windows 8 Store.

Windows 10 on ARM is completely different. This is the full Windows desktop experience. Microsoft has created a special emulator layer that allows traditional 32-bit desktop applications to run on ARM processors, so everything should “just work”. Microsoft even showed off a version of Windows 10 Professional on ARM, and said it supports all the usual advanced features you’d find on Windows 10 Professional.

The emulation works completely transparently to both users and the programs they run. It uses the same WOW (Windows on…