It is now exactly 3 years since I got my current device, the ARM based Surface Pro X SQ1 device. I’ve been using it as my primary work device since then, although much work has also been conducted on other devices for the customers I work with. Still, I’ve used my Surface Pro X almost every day.
This report is meant to help shed some light on the ARM platform, and aid in hopefully clearing out some questions marks for users or organizations looking to purchase for instance the Surface Pro 9 which comes both with an Intel processor as well as a Microsoft SQ3 (ARM) processor.
Windows 10 and ARM
When I got my Surface Pro X device Windows 11 was not available, so I started out with Windows 10 on ARM. Back then, there were to be honest quite a few things that did not work, which hindered me in performing my work.
The biggest problem was that x64 applications did not run at all! That included the 64-bit Microsoft 365 Apps for Enterprise as well as 64-bi compiled PowerShell modules which is used to manage Microsoft 365 and Azure resources. Thankfully, these obstacles are now a memory of the past!
Windows 11 bring ARM devices to a useable level
As soon as I upgraded to Windows 11 on my Surface Pro X it was a new world opening – and the obstacles I previously had was long gone. With Windows 11, there is x64 emulation meaning basically any application will run without problems, including the PowerShell modules I previously had problems running and also running Microsoft 365 Apps for Enterprise on 64-bit.
Since the release of Windows 11, more and more features have been enabled over time, bringing Windows 11 on ARM to an almost feature-complete Windows if you compare it to Windows 11 the 64-bit edition that is used on some 99%+ devices globally.
Limitations of Windows 11 on ARM
So, while there are no blockers for me to do my daily work, there are some limitations that you might want to be aware of.
|Windows feature / component||Limitation / problem||Comments from the field|
|Drivers (hardware and software)||Drivers for both hardware as well as software needs to have a driver compiled for the ARM64 platform. This might include printers, VPN software, antimalware applications and such.||The only application I have encountered problems with is Camtasia screen recorder application. However, there used to be some manual work needed to get Adobe Photoshop installed, manually uninstalling Visual C++ runtimes, and then installing the ARM based Visual C++ runtimes. For hardware, the printers I have used have had ARM64 drivers.|
Update March 14, 2023: For some more information on compatibility with antimalware and VPN solutions, scroll down to “A growing Arm ecosystem…” in this blog post Available today: Windows Dev Kit 2023 aka Project Volterra – Windows Developer Blog
|Microsoft Defender Application Guard||This virtualization based feature of Windows is not available on Windows on ARM.||This is too bad as I really like having the Application Guard feature protecting Office documents that come from the internet zone.|
Update March 14, 2023: Since the blog post was written, David Weston announced on Twitter that Application Guard for ARM is here (unclear though what build you need to be on).
|Hyper-V VMs||You can create and run Hyper-V virtual machines on Windows on ARM. However, you cannot run the x64 versions of Windows as guest OS in the VMs and are limited to Windows on ARM.||This is a limitation for me – but although the Surface Pro X can run not only Hyper-V but also Android apps via Android Subsystem, the performance of the devices is just not fitted for running all these performance-demanding virtualization stuff.|
|Games, Windows Fax and Scan and more||Microsoft has an official list of what could pose problems on ARM, see Windows Arm-based PCs FAQ – Microsoft Support||Except the limitations I mention above, I have not seen any of the other problem that Microsoft describe in the article over the three years that I have used my ARM device.|
ARM platform is expanding
Over the last year or so we have seen ARM compiled versions of Microsoft Teams and then also Company Portal app appearing. There are probably more examples, but these are what comes to mind.
Also, the number of devices based on ARM have increased over the years and most major computer manufacturers have ARM devices to choose from.
Management, ISO files, installation and recovery of the devices
One the biggest limitations is the lack of installation media (ISOs) for Windows on ARM. That means, every time I need to wipe my Surface Pro X I will have to download the 10GB recovery file, put in on a USB stick and recover.
After that I will be on Windows 10 1803 which means to get to Windows 11 22H2 I will have to run a number of Windows Update passes, with hours and hours to go until I am on the latest Windows release. This is the area where Microsoft can do a lot better! There are ISOs for Insider builds however.
When it comes to management of ARM based devices, there are some things to take into consideration, for instance regarding application deployment. Apart from that management of ARM devices are more or less the same as any Windows device, at least if you are managing them using Intune. If you are using Configuration Manager, have a look at this article.
If you want to have a great summary of what management and deployment of ARM (Surface devices) mean, read Deploy, manage, and service ARM-based Surface devices.
Does not make a sound
One of the biggest advantages which I have not mentioned yet is that the device is completely silent, and it has not given away one slightest sound over these three years. Fan-less, yet still enough powerful to do information work and being very mobile with the built in support for 4G/LTE.
Although the “no noise” thing is true for my Surface Pro X (SQ1) I recommend you look this up for the particular model you potentially will be purchasing.
ARM based devices generally use little energy and thereby produce little heat and with that often do not need any fans that generate noise.
Summary and recommendation
As I see it, the ARM platform is mature enough to put in hands of end-users. The security features of Windows are there (except for Application Guard which very few use) and basically all applications work, especially if you are using the Microsoft 365 suite.
Would/will I choose an ARM based device when the Surface Pro X support come to an end? The answer to that question is “yes, absolutely!”. Do I recommend end-users or organizations to try or evaluate ARM based devices? Yes, you should start today! As always, you need to test and make sure everything the end-users needs is working, before you do any broader deployments of ARM based devices.
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