My experience with Windows on ARM

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As others might have noted in some of my other comments, I recently bought a refurbished HP Envy x2 2-in-1 laptop/tablet running Windows 10 on ARM (I upgraded to Windows 10 Pro almost immediately – it’s free).

I know this forum isn’t my personal blog, but in case some of you are curious, I’ll summarize my experience here. In a word (ok, two words), it’s been “very good”, bordering on fantastic.

Despite having pretty scarce memory and storage, I’ve been able to install *most* of the apps I wanted. For development, I was able to install Lazarus (think Delphi), Visual Studio 2019 Community Edition, WSL 2 (including Ubuntu on ARM), and Visual Studio Code.

As to regular apps, I installed Spotify, Duolingo, Twitter, OneNote, Audible, HDHomeRun, FreeFileSync, VLC (store version – haven’t tried the Win32 version yet), NextGen Reader, IrfanView, Pinterest, Kobo, etc., plus store apps made for Windows 8.

So far, the only apps I couldn’t install are Nook (although there might be a standalone desktop version – I haven’t looked yet), Vivaldi (they only have a 64-bit version) and Kindle. I can use the web version of Kindle, but I’d rather have an app. There’s a store version of Alexa, but it’s very feature-sparse. The Amazon shopping and Netflix apps came preinstalled.

Veracrypt runs but cannot install the necessary system file driver, so that’s out of the question. (I’m assuming TrueCrypt has the same problem.) I reverted to BitLocker and that solution works well.

My biggest showstopper right now is Signal. The only version I can download won’t run, so I’m assuming it’s a 64-bit Win32 app. I can always use my phone, of course, and if I set up the Your Phone app and give it access to Signal on my phone, it should work quite nicely, so that’s a possible workaround. (I’m hesitant to do that since it might compromise the security of my conversations, but I haven’t completely ruled it out…)

I’d also rather use Vivaldi over the “Chredge” browser (which is ARM-compiled for this platform), but I can hold out until 64-bit support comes. The Chredge browser comes with DNS-over-HTTPS support, and the Collections feature can closely emulate the “tabs set-aside” feature I really liked from the older version of Edge, so this new Edge browser is actually really nice. Hmm…

I couldn’t find a 32-bit version of GnuCash (my go-to replacement for Quicken), but if you install PortableApps, you can install GnuCash that way (and it runs just fine).

The machine has only a single USB-C port, so it’s incompatible with my older, existing USB hubs (unless you use the included USB-C to USB-A adapter). However, I have a Continuum dock leftover from my experiment with Windows 10 Mobile (sigh), and it (mostly) works. To wit:

Here’s my current setup with my older Intel laptop (for background): I have 2 TVs I use as 2nd and 3rd monitors. I can use the laptop’s HDMI port directly, but in order to use the other TV, I had to buy a USB-to-DVI/VGA/HDMI adapter. Both monitors work fine this way, running both Windows 10 and Linux (although I had to do some digging to find the right Linux driver for this).

With the x2 + Continuum dock, the USB adapter connected monitor works, but the HDMI connected one doesn’t, but most people won’t experience this. Why? Because I’m also using an electronic HDMI switcher box. (It takes a single HDMI input and duplicates the signal to 2 HDMI ports (don’t ask).) So, Windows 10 on Intel knows what to do with this switcher box, but Windows 10 on ARM doesn’t. (Or it could just be a laptop hardware incompatibility – I’m not an engineer and I don’t even play one on TV… 😉 ) This isn’t too much of a showstopper since having 2 screens to work with is already pretty nice.

Having said all this, I could obviously buy a more full-featured multipurpose USB-C oriented hub. I’ve seen several on Amazon that have ports for Ethernet, USB-A, MicroSD, HDMI, DisplayPort, etc, and they even charge your laptop for you. But if you want to use your Continuum dock, it’s already pretty full-featured (my USB-to-Ethernet adapter works through the dock too – nice!).

I inserted a 200GB MicroSD card and copied over all my music, pictures and videos (and told Microsoft to use those folders as defaults). So, that goes a long way to negate the lack of storage on this machine.

The only question I have concerning this machine is how well it’ll do when I really push it (something I haven’t done yet). But any limitations there are directly tied to RAM and storage – not Windows 10 on ARM. So far, I’ve been very pleasantly surprised at the responsiveness and, of course, the battery life. Aside from this purchase, I’m really hoping Microsoft sticks with Windows 10 on ARM. It’s not, thank God, another Windows RT experience!

Comments (13)

13 responses to “My experience with Windows on ARM”

  1. Avatar

    bschnatt

    I forgot to mention that the Continuum dock *does* charge the x2, but not if you're really pushing it. If you're just doing web browsing / Twitter, the dock will charge the laptop, but if you're gaming or something, that's another story...

  2. Avatar

    bschnatt

    One more add-on comment: I turned on Signal in the Your Phone app. You can get Signal messages on your PC, but only in the form of notifications. You can respond to those messages using Your Phone as long as you don't open Signal on your phone or respond to the notification on your phone. Since you can only respond to actual Signal message notifications, you don't get the full experience of using the Signal app. (You can't pick the message thread you want, for example.) So, using Your Phone as a stopgap solution to the "Signal problem" is less than ideal. It's *something*, though.


    Obviously, when full 64-bit Win32 support comes, this problem will go away...

  3. Avatar

    Daninbusiness

    Good to hear that you're having a very positive experience!


    Also glad to hear that the performance is decent thusfar (while not under heavy load). Would be curious to see how it holds up with regular use, what combinations of apps may slow it down, and what it can manage effectively.

  4. Avatar

    brendan_hallett

    I bought one of these at launch, basically for one and only one reason - the battery life.

    I found that everytime I went to pickup my HP laptop to take out to a coffee shop, it would be flat.


    The Envy X2 always has charge. I use it for an hour and it drops from 100% to 96%, close it and pick it up two weeks later and its still 96%.


    Use it for Email, web mainly. Left it in S-mode never had any reason to change it


  5. Avatar

    ghostrider

    Sounds like a WM fan who really, really wants WoA to be great, and is making up a whole bunch of reasons to convince themselves. Look, ARM is where MS want's to take Windows - they see it as the future of Windows. An even more simplified desktop (10X) with even more dependency on Microsoft's cloud. MS added the x86 compatibility layer because they had no choice - without it, WoA would be RTv2 - dead before it got started. The limitations of x86 compatibility though will always be a thorn - it will never be 100%, nowhere close probably, and performance will put a lot off.

    10X is shaping up to be a ChromeOS lookalike, and 10X, of all the versions of Windows so far, could be the one that ends up pretty much as a thin client on the cloud, with many parts being subscription based. It's not rocket science, and yes, there will be naysayers and skeptics, but MS know Windows is on the slide and need a future path for it - one that can potentially generate considerable, ongoing revenue too.

    • Avatar

      bschnatt

      In reply to ghostrider:

      I was always a fan of the *idea* of Windows Mobile, but always hated how you had to switch apps - you have to long press a button?? But the thing about WM that got me *really* excited was the Continuum thing. Being able to use a single pocketable device for both work and play would be phenomenal. Too bad it failed...

      • Avatar

        peterc

        In reply to bschnatt:

        I agree about Continuum. I was soo looking forward to that feature developing. I recently bought an 11" ipad pro and am about to dig my old L950 continuum dock out of the old tech box and see what happens when I plug the ipad pro into it..... I have no idea if it will work, but lets see if it can create a dockable monitor/keyboard/mouse option for the ipad.

  6. Avatar

    SWCetacean

    I recently got a Surface Pro X and I'm really enjoying it thus far. I got the Pro X to replace a ThinkPad X1 Carbon that I got to keep when I left my previous workplace. I knew that I didn't need the power and capabilities of the ThinkPad, so I went for something lighter, sleeker, and fanless.


    On the Pro X, I use Chromium Edge, Skype (x86), Zoom (x86), and MusicBee (x86). Those 4 are the only programs I use on a regular basis. They were also the same programs I used on the ThinkPad. I was nicely surprised that Foobar2000 and the Nero AAC encoder also work on the Pro X without issue, so I can convert music files to AAC. My 4K monitor works fine from USB-C and provides power to the X. The Topping D10 DAC that I have uses the standard USB audio driver and works without issue. The only real compatibility issue I've faced thus far is Equalizer APO, the system-wide parametric equalizer software. Since it installs an APO, it cannot run in emulation. However, MusicBee has its own 15-band equalizer so I've been using that.


    Though I only use it for web browsing and music listening, I realized over the course of using the X that this thing could even replace my chunky work laptop. At work, I use WSL, VS Code, Teams, Office, Zoom, Chromium Edge, and Cisco VPN. I'm a software engineer, but all of my heavy work is done on remote Linux servers; none of it is done on my workstation. I'm lugging around a ThinkPad P52s to serve as a terminal. That VPN is the only obstacle; Cisco does have an ARM release of AnyConnect 4.8, but my company is still on 4.5, so this isn't a technical mark against the X, but rather a problem with organizational inertia/bureaucracy. Heck, I think my boss could use this machine. He is a Linux diehard who is forced to use Windows due to corporate policy and refuses to use anything that isn't a Linux command line tool or a web app. He refuses to use any Office desktop app and uses the web versions of everything. For him, I think Windows on Arm wouldn't pose many compatibility challenges at all given that WSL2 and an Arm web browser are both available.


    All in all, I find that Windows on Arm with my Pro X is surprisingly usable.

    • Avatar

      brisonharvey

      In reply to SWCetacean:

      My biggest concern was battery life using x86 apps. How does that hold up?


      I'm a Digital Instructional Coach at a school so I am hopping all over the building helping teachers, in and out of classrooms. I love the idea of Windows on ARM, especially having a cellular connection to fall back to when the WiFi goes down (which it frequently does at school). But I need to use Office apps a bunch. It would be my secondary machine to my beefier desktop built for video editing, etc. I'd love your thoughts.

      • Avatar

        SWCetacean

        In reply to brisonharvey:

        I do not heavily use x86 apps, the most commonly used one being MusicBee, which is extremely light on resources so that's not a good test of battery life. Zoom might be the most demanding one, and a 2-hour Zoom session with video on for all participants uses probably 20-25% of the battery, but I haven't done any measurements other than "oh, it didn't drain as much as I thought it would." I'll have a 2-hour zoom meeting tonight so I'll check the battery drain then.

      • Avatar

        paradyne

        In reply to brisonharvey:

        It works just fine, and the 365 version of office (not sure about other versions) is compiled native ARM code anyway using CHPE, Compiled Hybrid Portable Executable which allows exe and dll files to contain both kinds of code, which then allows it to be both native ARM and still compatible with x86 office plugins.


        It sound ideal for your use case as it's such an easy device to carry, great screen, great connectivity.

  7. Avatar

    bschnatt

    I misspoke earlier. I mistakenly thought that WSL 2 was part of the main consumer channel, but it's not (although my understanding is that the recently released 2004 variant of Windows supposedly supports it). So I'm currently running WSL 1 on both of my laptops (including the x2). Sorry about that. I'm actively seeking 2004, but Microsoft ain't releasing it from their greedy clutches for me quite yet...

  8. Avatar

    bschnatt

    Just a quick update. There actually *is* an ARM-native Nook app in the Windows Store. Don't ask me why a search for it (in the store) doesn't return anything, but if you search for "nook desktop app" in your browser, it returns this link:


    https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/p/nook-books-magazines-newspapers-comics/9wzdncrfj33h


    If you're signed into Microsoft, you'll see the Install button. Clicking that will take you to the location of the app in the Windows Store. Install it, and voila! it works. I believe it's an app made for Windows 8, but it runs fine.


    As to Kindle, if you search for "kindle pc app" or "kindle desktop app" in your browser, you'll find a link to the app listing on Amazon's website. Just "buy" it (it's free) and download and install it. Thankfully, it's a 32 bit x86 app, so it works just fine. (I had to make some adjustments within the app to widen the book page, et. al, but it's all golden.


    Still haven't had any heavy-duty sessions with Visual Studio or Lazarus or whatnot, but the computer runs quickly enough with many apps open (browser, Spotify, Mail, and Calculator for example). I haven't seen any major lags yet. I bought this unit refurbished on Amazon for $399 and it's met or exceeded every expectation so far (i.e., it was a steal!) The last time I checked, there were several left and were selling at $379. (I make NO promises that the unit you get will be as flawless as mine - you're on your own...)

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