Microsoft Surface Book

Windows 10 part two (Image credit: Future)

New benchmark results have appeared online, apparently showing an upcoming Snapdragon X Elite chip – and if they are accurate, we might finally get Windows 11 on ARM laptops that can compete with the best MacBooks.

Qualcomm, the company behind Snapdragon chips, has been promising powerful, yet efficient, ARM-based computing chips for a while now. ARM’s RISC chip architecture is an alternative to the x86 architecture used by Intel and AMD.

Because ARM chips are less power-hungry and more efficient than x86 chips, they were mainly used to power mobile devices like smartphones and tablets (with Qualcomm making the vast majority of chips used by those devices).

However, some laptop manufacturers have started releasing laptops powered by ARM chips – and this led Microsoft to release Windows 11 on ARM – a special version of the operating system that can run on ARM’s RISC instruction sets (the commands that govern the operation of a CPU at a transistor level).

While ARM-based laptops offered plenty of potential – promising smartphone-like features such as quick boot times, instant resume, and long battery lives compared to traditional Intel or AMD-powered laptops, the reality was often a lot more disappointing. Laptops with ARM chips were often very expensive, less powerful than their x86 counterparts and suffered from a lack of compatible software. Users were confined to using ARM apps from the Microsoft Store – and the selection was usually quite poor.

Basically, I never reviewed an ARM-based Windows laptop that I’d recommend to most people. However, while Microsoft and laptop makers were struggling to make ARM-based laptops worth buying, Apple came along and showed everyone how it’s done; after its much-publicised dumping of Intel, it released new MacBooks in 2020 powered by its M1 chip – which uses ARM architecture.

The M1 generation of MacBooks were a huge success and proved you could have ARM laptops that rivalled Intel or AMD laptops when it comes to performance, while also delivering on promises such as long battery lives. The success of M1 MacBooks made ARM-based Windows laptops look even worse – and the gap only widened with Apple’s release of its M2 and M3 chips.

closeup of circuitry in a PC processor chip

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

New chips incoming?

This could finally change, however, with some exciting-looking (honest) benchmark leaks, as reported by Windows Latest. According to the website, new benchmarks results have appeared on Geekbench’s website, which have apparently been achieved by a currently unreleased Lenovo device, named Lenovo 83ED.

According to these results, the Lenovo 83ED features a Snapdragon X Elite (X1E78100) chip with 12 cores and running at 3,417MHz.

It seems this device scores 1,628 in Geekbench’s single-core tests, and 11,392 in its multi-core tests. These are quite respectable numbers and beat the multi-core scores of both the M1 and M2 chips in the same tests as Windows Latest explains.

What’s particularly interesting about his new leak is that it follows recent leaked benchmarks found on Geekbench’s website for a device running a different Snapdragon X Elite chip with the SKU number X1E80100. This apparently has 12 cores as well, but a higher clock speed of 4,012Mhz.

This has led to speculation that Qualcomm is readying more than one model of the Snapdragon X Elite chip, with the X1E80100 being a higher-end model that offers better performance. This is a similar approach to the one Apple takes, as it has several different types of M1, M2 and M3 chips with different core counts which impact performance and price.

The higher-end X1E80100 manages to score 2,574 and 12,562 in Geekbench’s single-core and multi-core tests, respectively.

This is a decent bump, especially in single-core, and if accurate suggests this Snapdragon X Elite model could outperform the M1 and M2 chips in single and multi-core tests, while coming pretty close to the recently-released M3 chip, which narrowly beats it with scores of 3,181 and 15,620 in the same tests.

Finally Windows 11 ARM laptops worth buying?

If these leaks are accurate, it could mean that Apple’s MacBooks will finally get some stiff competition from Windows 11 on ARM laptops. While benchmark results only tell a part of a story, the idea of new ARM chips coming out that could make Windows 11 run well on the hardware is certainly exciting.

You just need to take a look at our best laptops guide to see it filled with plenty of MacBooks running on Apple’s ARM silicon, while there’s not a single Windows 11 laptop that’s powered by ARM on there.

Could this change things? Perhaps – I’d certainly like to see an ARM-based Windows 11 laptop that runs software just as well as a MacBook, while also offering huge battery lives and quick startup times. Fast and secure built-in 5G connectivity would also be a great feature to have and could even give these laptops an edge over MacBooks which still do not offer mobile data connectivity (you need to rely on WI-Fi).

However, there’s still a big hurdle that Windows 11 on ARM devices need to clear: the lack of app compatibility. All that potential power won’t be much use if you can’t run applications you depend on.

Because ARM architecture uses different instruction sets to x86, you can’t simply run apps designed for the latter. App developers need to create new versions that can run on ARM hardware natively – and Microsoft has so far done a poor job of encouraging them to do so. This has led to a bit of a vicious circle, as the lack of app support meant that Windows 11 on ARM devices were not popular – and that lack of popularity meant that many app devs didn’t think it was worth committing resources to porting its apps to a platform relatively few people use.

So, Microsoft needs to ensure that anyone switching to a Windows 11 ARM device doesn’t miss out on their favorite apps. One thing the company should do is look at how Apple handled this. When the M1 Macs first launched, the majority of native apps were made by Apple. However, you could still run apps designed for Intel-powered Macs thanks to a clever tool made by Apple called Rosetta 2. This acted as a compatibility layer that allowed Intel apps to run on M1 Macs with minimal impact on performance.

It worked a treat, and it meant people going to M1 MacBooks could continue to run pretty much all the software they used. And, since the M1 Macs became a huge success, an increasing number of applications got native M1 (and M2 and M3) versions. These days, most popular apps will run natively on M3, rather than relying on Rosetta 2.

Microsoft is a company with a long history of software development, so I remain confused as to why it hasn’t done something similar. While there are tools that can make Intel apps run on ARM in Windows, they lack the performance and ease of use of Apple’s implementation. If these new Snapdragon X Elite have a chance of appearing in laptops that could challenge MacBooks, Microsoft is going to have to address the software elephant in the room.

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Matt is TechRadar’s Managing Editor for Core Tech, looking after computing and mobile technology. Having written for a number of publications such as PC Plus, PC Format, T3 and Linux Format, there’s no aspect of technology that Matt isn’t passionate about, especially computing and PC gaming. Ever since he got an Amiga A500+ for Christmas in 1991, he’s loved using (and playing on) computers, and will talk endlessly about how The Secret of Monkey Island is the best game ever made.

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