One of the controversies within the world of hardware is the comparison between processors with x86 register and instruction sets, designed by Intel and AMD and used in PCs around the world, and ARM, which are found in a multitude of devices. This was generated by the adoption of said ISA on their personal computers, however, long before those of Cupertino had made that leap, Windows for ARM already existed. Why are laptops with ARM processors not getting off the ground except those from Apple ? Is it worth having one?
For some time now we see in stores many laptops that run Windows or Linux like a conventional PC, however, they do not have an Intel or AMD processor in their guts. They are called ARM laptops, which were created as a way to achieve ultralight computers with performance in certain consumptions higher than a PC. With the appearance of MacBooks with Apple chips and under the same ISA, the result could not have been more depressing.
Apple’s advantage in ARM laptops
The main reason does not have to do with the operating system, but rather is the power, not in vain, one of the reasons why Qualcomm ended up acquiring Nuvia to make a new generation of processors is due to the fact that in terms of CPU cores under ISA ARM they have lagged far behind Apple. Because Windows for ARM is only compatible with the Snapdragon 8CX , in the end all laptops of this type all have the same processor and are clones of each other with minor variations.
- Well, if we look at the results in Geekbench 5 , most of these computers achieve a performance of 1100 points when executing code that can only run on a single core and 5700 points if we talk about multicore code. All this in a chip with 8 cores at 2995 MHz speed .
- In contrast, the Apple M1 chip in the MacBook Air , which appeared at the end of 2020, reaches 1700 points in single-core and almost 7600 points in multicore, like its rival it is an 8-core configuration and runs at 3.2 GHz.
- Apple’s M2 scales up to 1906 and 9017 points respectively , without increasing the number of overall processing units. As well as the clock speed of the performance cores at 3.4 GHz
Of course, we have to take into account that the trap in chips of this type is that they use heterogeneous core configurations, with some giving better performance than others, but less efficient. Both types of processors share space on the same chip. Hence, the multicore result is in all three cases below what was expected. Although the general idea is that there is a clear performance difference between the Apple chip and the Qualcomm chip.
And how do they compare to Intel and AMD?
Unfortunately, there is no universal processor that has the same performance per watt at all consumptions. The x86 have a lousy performance in mobile phone consumption and that is why nobody uses them, on the other hand, as we increase the watts of the processor we see how the tables are turning. This is why none of the ARM notebooks have a CPU with a TDP of 45 W.
However, there is a middle point in which ultralight laptops are found and, therefore, with low consumption. Well, one of the most used processors is the Intel Core i3-1215U, a 6-core chip (2 for performance and 4 for efficiency) designed for ultralight laptops such as the ASUS Vivobook. Well, at a speed of 2.5 GHz they can reach 1427 points in single-core, however, in multi-core performance they lag behind because they only have 6 units, the number? 4461 points.
Software sells hardware
In its history, Apple has changed processors several times and its complete mastery over the vertical structure of its platform has allowed them to make transitions from one ISA to another without problems in all of them. If any of us runs a program written for the PC in 1981 on his computer, you can run it on your current computer without any emulation or code porting. On the other hand, in Mac this does not happen, in its history they have used four different sets of instruction registers: 68K, PowerPC, x86 and ARM. On PC? Only one in all this time.
The problem in itself is not moving the source code from one type of binary to another, since if you have used high-level languages that do not have dependencies they are not a problem. Rather, the difficulty lies in those parts of the code that do depend on elements of the ISA. Operating systems being the main culprits for this. Not to mention more complex concepts like how each instruction and register set handles protected and unprotected areas of memory.
Because applications today run on top of an operating system, we need it to be well-suited or there won’t be a port of applications from x86 to ARM. However, the lack of them means that ARM laptops are not sold and can be considered a huge fiasco.
No one wants to take responsibility for the ARM laptop fiasco
While Apple is in Don Palomo mode, in the case of ARM laptops with Windows it is Microsoft and Qualcomm having to agree with a large number of manufacturers, who see how those from Cupertino sell their MacBooks at high prices and decide to emulate them. offering a product whose perception of value is low, even compared to other laptops with the Redmond operating system.
Actually, it all boils down to the fact that Qualcomm, despite being an excellent creator of mobile chips, has created processors that are too slow and users notice this. Apple has been able to allow its users to run applications on their Intel Macs smoothly and almost effortlessly. Instead, seeing x86 programs being emulated on a Qualcomm Snapdragon 8CX is maddening.
In other words, ARM Windows laptops should be priced well below what they are currently, as the value they offer is not good enough to justify the cost to the end user. The fault here does not lie with the assemblers, but rather with Qualcomm and Microsoft for not offering a competitive processor and operating system duo.