The term “Arm processor” is starting to appear a lot more often, but what does it actually mean and how does it differ from processors developed by AMD and Intel?
We’ve created this guide to help answer your questions and explain why you should be excited about this technology. And if your questions still haven’t been answered, feel free to send your questions to Twitter.
What is an Arm processor?
Arm is a RISC (Reduced Instruction Set Computing) architecture developed by Arm Limited. This processor architecture is not new. It was first used in personal computers as early as the 1980s.
However, you’re unlikely to see a device labeled as having an “Arm” processor like you do with AMD and Intel-powered machines. Indeed, Arm Limited licenses the architecture to third-party companies so that they can develop their own bespoke processors.
Modern examples of Arm-based processors include Nvidia’s Tegra chip found inside the Nintendo Switch and the new Apple Silicon processors for Macs and MacBooks. One of Arm Limited’s biggest customers is Qualcomm, which uses the architecture to develop Snapdragon processors that power the vast majority of modern smartphones and tablets. In fact, if you have a small portable computing device, chances are it runs on the Arm architecture.
Why is it? Well, the efficient nature of the RISC architecture allows fewer transistors to be used than Intel-based x86 processors typically found in laptops and desktops, which helps Arm-based chips to excel in energy efficiency and heat dissipation. With smartphones like prioritizing battery life and low thermals over performance power, Arm technology makes a lot of sense here.
Following recent performance improvements and better software support from Microsoft, Arm processors have also started to appear in laptops, but mainly in ultrabooks which prioritize battery and portability above all else.
In fact, Qualcomm has started releasing its own Arm-based laptop chips, with the Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3 being the most recent. These chips are typically found in affordable mid-range devices such as Chromebooks, with the Intel x86 architecture still dominating the high-performance laptop market.
That said, Apple has now launched its own Arm-based processor technology, Apple Silicon, and it has so far demonstrated superior performance power over similar Intel x86 chips. In fact, the Apple M1-powered MacBook Air is now the most powerful ultrabook you can buy at its price.
Apple has also launched several high-performance chips based on the Arm architecture, such as the M1 Pro, M1 Max, and M1 Ultra. This proves that Arm processors can indeed deliver a very high level of performance, so much so that they can compete with Intel x86 processors from AMD and Intel.
This shows that Arm processors have a very bright future and could become even more common in laptops and desktop computers.
Is Arm better than Intel x86?
Not necessarily. Both types of processor architecture have their own strengths and weaknesses. Excellent power consumption and heat dissipation make Arm an excellent choice for small portable devices such as smartphones and tablets.
Meanwhile, Intel’s x86 CISC (Complex Instruction Set Computer) architecture is traditionally better suited for performance-oriented tasks because it can execute more complex instructions per clock. This made it a natural fit for laptops and desktops, which typically experience heavier workloads than smartphones and tablets.
Laptop makers have previously snubbed Arm-based chips because they require huge amounts of RAM and suffer from compatibility issues with Windows operating systems, but that seems to be changing. Now RAM is much more affordable and Microsoft has released Windows 11 which supposedly has better support.
We’re now at a stage where manufacturers are selling laptops with Arm-based chips, including Samsung’s Galaxy Book S and Lenovo’s Yoga C630 13. These laptops boast better-than-average battery life, new ultra-portable designs, and support for LTE connectivity, and while processor performance wasn’t quite as good as their Intel x86 counterparts, it was still powerful enough for basic tasks like web browsing, video streaming, and word processing.
But any doubts that Arm can compete with Intel x86 in terms of performance power are slowly being lifted thanks to Apple. Its M1, M1 Pro, M1 Max, and M1 Ultra processors deliver the best speeds in their respective CPU categories, even when it comes to desktops like the Mac Studio.
Such bragging rights, at least in the consumer market, are currently exclusive to Apple. If you want a powerful Windows laptop or PC, you’re better off avoiding Arm and sticking with an Intel x86 processor from AMD or Intel.
So while it’s too much of a hassle to say that Arm is outright better than Intel x86, there’s no doubt that the former is improving at an accelerating rate and will likely see a much bigger presence in the gaming industry. laptops and desktops over the next few years, while continuing to dominate the smartphone space.