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!

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