Windows on Apple’s Mac M1 Chip? It’s Here and Amazing Fast!

We are all excited about Apple's Mac M1 chip, aren't we? I know I am, based on what benchmarks for the Apple Mac M1 chip have revealed so far. Solid performance, strong battery and the main question that remains to be answered is how fast the transition in terms of software compatibility will be. At the same we need to see whether Rosetta 2 consistently rises up to the challenge of emulating x86. Amazon's AWS principal software engineer, Alex Graf, answered a different very important question though.  That of whether Apple's Mac M1 can run Windows.

Can Apple's Mac M1 run Windows on ARM?

As we all(?) know by now, Apple's Mac M1 chip is built on ARM architecture. Alex's curiosity and technical expertise led him to find the answer. Is it possible for the Apple M1 to run Windows on ARM? Not just that though, but also how fast it can run it. Alex took an Insider Preview of Windows 10 ARM that he ran through open source virtualization and machine emulation software QEMU in addition to Apple's Hypervisor framework to bring a Windows setup to life. Of course he added some patches to QEMU which he has published

Since then, Twitter user @KhaosTian has published a UI wrapper for those who want to run Alex's image directly in a simple way. Meanwhile, Sharif Alee (@TheShareefAli) successfully ran Ubuntu 20.04 on Windows on ARM on the Apple M1. Wow! While there are still some rough spots than need polishing, all these are amazing feats. And it's hardly been three weeks since the Apple Mac M1 chip computers became publicly available. 

A picture is worth 1000 words.

✓ x86 emulation is fully functional.
✓ It's really on an M1
✓ Virtio-net works
✓ RDP works pic.twitter.com/dz9446DvPD

— Alexander Graf (@_AlexGraf) November 28, 2020

HOLY SHIT, IT WORKS!!!!!
THANKS FOR YOUR TIP the missing piece was the register sync and ramfb! I threw in mainline uefi and it works! pic.twitter.com/C1mmVbImi7

— Shareef Ali (@TheShareefAli) November 29, 2020

So is it fast?

It turns out that it is! In fact it's faster than the Microsoft Surface X Pro itself! As a matter of fact, running Windows 10, the M1 chip hit scores of 1,300 in single-core and  5,400 in multi-core using the Geekbench 5 performance benchmark. That was above the Surface Pro X’s scores of about 800 in single-core and around 3,000 in multi-core. So yeah, the Apple Mac M1 chip beats the Surface X Pro at its own game! Apple Silicon has landed with quite some noise!

Apple's M1 runs Windows on ARM virtualized. Interesting prospects unveiled.

What this means for Windows on ARM

The answer has come straight for Qualcomm, Microsoft's partner in the project of running Windows on ARM. Qualcomm SVP and general manager for mobile, compute, and infrastructure Alex Katouzian told journalists on Wednesday that Apple's Mac M1 chip was a validation for putting mobile chips into laptops.

“All of those things are validation of what we've been preaching and I think the strength is going to come from the fact that our partnership with Microsoft is going to be much stronger and extended into the future. I think many, many parties realise that the Windows-based ecosystem needs a boost like this, and we're the partner of choice to make that happen — so, it's a great opportunity and a great validation for Qualcomm.”

Will the Microsoft-Qualcomm partnership start flourishing and rise up to the Apple M1's challenge? This all remains to be seen. But as a Windows user, primarily, I am excited about the prospects that have opened. All we know for now is the Apple's Mac M1 chip runs Windows on ARM in a way we have not witnessed so far. Mobile chips on laptops seem to be the future!

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