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Microsoft is adding x64 emulation to Windows on ARM

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The Surface Pro X
Photo: Microsoft

Yesterday, Microsoft officially announced that it’s working on an x64 emulation for Windows on ARM, which will pave the way for up-to-date versions of applications like the Adobe Creative Suite to finally work on the platform.

“We will also expand support for running x64 apps, with x64 emulation starting to roll out to the Windows Insider Program in November,” Microsoft Chief Product Officer Panos Panay said in the announcement.

Emulation is, of course, not as efficient as running apps natively, since the program you want to run has to be “translated” by another program to work on a different processing platform. But it does work. Apple showed off an example of this at its WWDC 2020 event back in June (which seems like a million years ago now) with its Rosetta 2 software, which translates x64 app code to ARM code. It seemed to run pretty smooth in the demo video, but Rosetta 2 is Apple’s proprietary software. We won’t really know how well Microsoft manages its own transition until its own x64 emulation software is released to all Windows users next year.

Currently, Windows on ARM can run both 32-bit and 64-bit native ARM apps, and emulate 32-bit x86 (Intel or AMD) apps. But many software developers have stopped supporting the 32-bit version of their applications in recent years, so Windows on ARM has been a little light on what software can run on it. Most computers these days have at least 8GB of RAM, and 64-bit applications are the only ones that can access that much memory, because 32-bit apps are capped at 4GB. That’s one reason to focus only on the higher-bit apps. The 64-bit Windows 10 Home edition supports up to 128GB of memory, while Windows 10 Pro, Enterprise, and Education will support up to 2TB of RAM.

Microsoft has already stopped supporting a 32-bit version of Windows 10 with the latest 2004 release.

“Beginning with Windows 10, version 2004, all new Windows 10 systems will be required to use 64-bit builds and Microsoft will no longer release 32-bit builds for OEM distribution,” said the company in a recently updated documentation.

If you’re still on a previous version of Windows, or any other piece of software that only recently stopped supporting 32-bit for that matter, you don’t need to worry about anything until you decide to update.

But x64 emulation for Windows on ARM is great news if you’re looking to pick up something like Microsoft’s refreshed Surface Pro X in the future. We thought the last version was pretty good, and x64 emulation should make this next one even better. It doesn’t matter so much for Microsoft’s newest budget laptop, the Surface Laptop Go, since it only has 4GB of RAM. But if you’re willing to spend more than the base price, you can upgrade to 8GB and get more use out of those future 64-bit emulated apps.



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