Chances are good that most, if not all of the apps running on your daily-driver PC are 64-bit applications these days. If you picked up Microsoft’s new Surface Pro X, though, you’ve noticed that 64-bit Win32 applications don’t work. That might not be the case forever, though. According to a report from Neowin, Microsoft is looking at bringing support for 64-bit x86 app emulation to Windows 10 systems running on ARM processors.
Neowin’s Rich Woods writes that Microsoft is looking to bring x64 app emulation to the OS as soon as the first half of 2021. Insiders will reportedly be able to test it out next year.
What’s going on here can be a little confusing, so let’s break it down a bit. ARM processors are 64-bit processors. Windows 10 on ARM “runs all x86, ARM32, and ARM64 UWP apps from the Microsoft Store,” Microsoft says in its ARM documentation. “ARM32 and ARM64 apps run natively without any emulation, while x86 apps run under emulation.”
ZDNet’s Ed Bott notes that most 32-bit x86 windows apps run with relatively “good performance and a seamless user experience” but clarifies that 64-bit Win32 apps are not supported. Instead, the 32-bit version of the application will be installed if available.
How will it work, though?
Right now, there are a bunch of questions hanging in the air, and neither Microsoft nor Qualcomm are commenting at this time. Any amount of emulation means a performance hit of some kind, even if it’s imperceptible to the user. While 32-bit apps generally run well enough as described above, 64-bit apps could see a notable performance hit.
In many cases, which version you’re installing isn’t well-messaged. Neowin picks on Photoshop as one example here. If you’re installing Photoshop on ARM, Adobe Creative Cloud will offer up Photoshop 2018, a 32-bit application. On a 64-bit system, it offers up Photoshop 2020. On an ARM processor, where there’s now this choice between the version that runs well and the newest version, which one will Windows pick, and how?
Regardless, this should make augmenting your device library with an ARM-based system, or making the switch entirely, a bit more simple. And even with that performance question hanging in the air, Qualcomm’s ARM-based processors are still improving, so x86-64 app-emulation on systems like the Surface Pro X may be as seamless as 32-bit before too long.