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Microsoft finally brings x64 emulation to Windows on ARM, but only for test channel

By Nadeem Sarwar December 11, 2020, 10:44 am
Surface Pro X

Microsoft’s fresh attempt at an ARM software ecosystem has not exactly been a wild success. Take for example machines such as Surface Pro X that run Windows on ARM, but have been severely limited by the app gap, while the Rosetta 2 emulation layer has allowed Apple to sort that issue with its very first generation of M1 MacBooks. That is because the Surface Pro X can only run native 32-bit and 64-bit apps compiled natively for ARM, while emulation is limited only to 32-bit apps based on the x86 instructions used by Intel-powered computers. That left a huge chunk of 64-bit x86 apps non-functional for machines that offer the Windows on ARM experience. Microsoft is finally solving that piece of the puzzle.

Microsoft has released a preview of 64-bit app emulation – something it calls x64 – as a preview for Windows Insiders in the Dev Channel. Arriving with the build no. 21277, users who run a machine with Windows on ARM can now download x64 apps from the Microsoft Store or other repositories after installing the latest version. Thanks to the arrival of x64 emulation, users can now play games and run productivity software such as Autodesk Sketchbook. Additionally, the emulation will finally allow Windows on ARM machines to run a 64-bit build of Chrome, which means you can expect better performance now.

Microsoft still wants developers to recompile their apps for ARM64.

“Over time, the ecosystem has moved more toward 64-bit-only x64 apps and we’ve heard the feedback that customers would like to see those x64 apps running on ARM64. That’s why we are working on expanding the capability of our emulation to include x64 applications and sharing this first preview to gather feedback,” the company said in a blog post.

However, x64 emulation for Windows on ARM is still very much a work in progress and there is no word when it will be released widely for all users. Microsoft also adds that some apps might not work initially with x64 emulation, but over time, both compatibility and performance will improve over time. Microsoft also recommends installing a preview version of the Qualcomm Adreno graphics driver for machines such as Surface Pro X, Lenovo Flex 5G and the Samsung Galaxy Book S for best performance.

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