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Windows on ARM: Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 vs. Intel Celeron N3450 - [hardware]
02:55 PM EDT - Mar,25 2018 - post a comment

Microsoft has come up with some strange ideas over the years. Their latest one, which has been coming from a while, is running Windows on ARM processors once again, with the help of Qualcomm and some daring device manufacturers. This new Windows on ARM initiative was announced in 2016 and formally launched last year, and now we have laid our hands on the very first Windows on ARM device, the HP Envy x2, for some serious benchmarking. The HP Envy x2 is not running an Intel or AMD x86 processor, but an ARM-based Qualcomm Snapdragon 835, the same system-on-a-chip used by many of 2017's flagship Android smartphones. It will soon be joined by other devices from Asus and Lenovo, using the same SoC for what should be largely the same results. Now you might remember Microsoft's attempt to get Windows running on ARM hardware way back at the launch of Windows 8 with a variant of the OS known as Windows RT. The infamous OS and the products that ran it were complete failures, to the embarrassment of Microsoft, and that was down to one simple fact: you couldn't run any traditional x86 applications, so you were limited to the crappy and very limited Metro-style apps found in the Windows Store. This time, things are different. The new Windows on ARM can run desktop x86 apps through emulation, which makes the whole platform actually useful. Apps in the Windows Store will still provide the best experience, as most are UWP apps that natively support ARM, but if you need to run your favorite desktop apps, that should be possible in this new iteration.
When looking at UWP apps that run natively on ARM, the Snapdragon 835 is typically faster than the Intel Celeron N3450 and varying degrees slower than Intel's Core processors from the last few years, based on limited testing. Certainly when you put the Envy x2 next to an N3450-based device, just browsing through Explorer and using Edge is noticeably faster with Windows on ARM and I think that's reflected to an extent with the benchmark results.

It's not that surprising to see the Snapdragon 835 fall behind Intel's U and Y series Core processors when looking at native apps, as the Snapdragon 835 has a very low TDP, while Intel's competing chips can go as high as 15 or even 25 watts. Put more power in the equation, and you're likely to win.

However, the real killer is x86 emulation performance. Being able to run x86 desktop apps is a key ingredient to this new Windows variant. Even ignoring the compatibility issues for a moment, x86 performance on ARM chips is terrible, which puts the whole platform into question at least in this early iteration.

When the Snapdragon fails to get even close to a measly Atom-based Celeron processor in a number of workloads, you're not going to get a good real world experience. When you use the device with a desktop app like Excel or Photoshop, it's easy to get frustrated by how sluggish, laggy and unimpressive the performance is. Using a Celeron N3450 is tough when you're used to Core i5 or i7 performance, and the Snapdragon 835 is significantly worse than this.


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