AWS engineer puts Windows 10 on Arm on Apple Mac M1 – and it thrashes Surface Pro X

A virtualized Windows 10 on Arm runs faster on Apple's M1 hardware than on Microsoft's own Arm-based Surface Pro X.

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An Amazon Web Services (AWS) virtualization engineer has shown what Windows 10 on Arm could be like if Microsoft licensed its Arm-based OS to the public rather than just to Windows 10 manufacturers. 

With Apple's new M1 Arm-based system on chip, Mac users who need to use Windows 10 can't run Microsoft's Arm-based version of Windows using Apple's Bootcamp. 

The key obstacle is that Microsoft doesn't license Windows 10 on Arm to any entities other than its own Surface group and Windows 10 on Arm OEMs like HP, Asus and Lenovo.   

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Technically, there's nothing stopping owners of the M1 MacBook Air, MacBook Pro 13-inch or Mac mini from running Windows 10 on Arm, as Apple's software engineering chief Craig Federighi recently pointed out.

"We have the core technologies for them to do that, to run their Arm version of Windows, which in turn of course supports x86 user mode applications. But that's a decision Microsoft has to make, to bring to license that technology for users to run on these Macs. But the Macs are certainly very capable of it," said Federighi.

But Microsoft's reluctance to create a license for Windows 10 on Arm for end users hasn't stopped creative engineers from putting together a working example of what things could be like if it did. 

AWS principal engineer Alexander Graf did just that, using the open-source QEMU virtualization software for Windows on Arm. QEMU emulates access to hardware such as the CPU and GPU. Graf's work was spotted by The 8-bitvia 9to5Mac

"Who said Windows wouldn't run well on #AppleSilicon? It's pretty snappy here," Graf wrote in a tweet.  

Graf previously worked on the Kernel Virtual Machine (KVM) for Linux distribution SUSE for over a decade. He also worked on the SUSE Arm team to bring "openSUSE and SLES to all Arm platforms where it made sense", according to Graf's Linkedin profile. And he worked on Mac OS X virtualization using KVM. 

Now he's a KVM developer at AWS, which today announced new Mac instances for AWS Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) based on Nitro System, an AWS hypervisor for EC2 instances.  

AWS EC2 Mac instances with the Apple M1 chip "are already in the works, and planned for 2021". But the current AWS offering include instances of 8th generation, six-core Intel Core i7 processors running at 3.2GHz. The instances allow developers to run applications for the Apple's macOS, iOS, iPadOS, tvOS, watchOS, and Safari.

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A developer using the handle @imbushuo on Twitter has posted Geekbench versions 4 and 5 scores that compare Windows 10 on Arm on an M1 computer with the Microsoft-made Surface Pro X. 

Windows on an M1 got a single-core score of 1,288 and multi-core score of 5,685 whereas the Surface Pro X's scores were roughly 800 and 3,000 in those respective benchmarks. Per MSpoweruser, the Surface Pro X benchmark was made using the SQ2 Arm-based chip that was co-developed by Qualcomm and Microsoft for Microsoft's latest Surface Pro X computers.   

The benchmarks don't bode well for Microsoft's Windows on Arm ambitions to create an ecosystem of Windows OEMs if Apple's new in-house M1 chips make Macs the highest-performing hardware for running Windows on Arm.