Windows on ARM has had plenty of growing pains since Microsoft’s first Windows RT powered Surface tablets were released years ago. Windows on ARM has always had performance and software compatiblity problems… that is (hopefully) until now. Windows 11 on ARM finally bring x64 software compatibility so that you can actually run all normal Windows programs. Plus, the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3 should bring some excellent performance improvements.
Lenovo has passed on building ARM based Windows laptops when it came to previous hardware probably because most Windows on ARM devices kind of sucked. Samsung’s Galaxy Book 2 in 2018 was much worse off than the original Samsung Galaxy Book due to its switch to ARM. The HP Envy X2 was underwhelming as were Microsoft’s ARM based Windows device attempts like the Surface Pro X (which I think does not deserve the “Pro” moniker). So this year, Lenovo thinks all of that has changed and has gone on to build their first ARM based Windows laptop called the Lenovo ThinkPad X13s Gen 1, and it is a beauty.
Hearing that the Lenovo ThinkPad X13s Gen 1 is Lenovo’s first ARM laptop reminded me of a very old laptop I had from IBM called the IBM WorkPad Z50 from 1999, but it turns out that one actually had a MIPS 4100 CPU not an ARM CPU (it was still RISC based though). That ran Windows CE Handheld PC Pro edition which only ran Windows CE apps and those were very limited back in 1999. The new Lenovo ThinkPad X13s runs Windows 11 for ARM which includes both x86 and x64 Windows application emulation layer support. This means it should be able to run any Windows program both in the Microsoft Store and hopefully side-loaded from other websites and media. Microsoft Office is available in a native ARM format now, and in my brief time with it, Office on ARM was very good on the ThinkPad X13s.
The ThinkPad X13s has a new 3rd generation Snapdragon 8cx processor system and this is part of why Lenovo has chosen now to release an ARM based Windows laptop. It seems to be very responsive and quite acceptable performance wise, but there are some extra benefits here. This chipset has special features for video conferencing that will barely show 3% CPU usage duing a video conference call. Many of my older/smaller x86 intel laptops will get quite hot during video conference calls, so if the ThinkPad X13s can handle lengthy video calls with no cooling and very little CPU usage, that will be excellent during the time of COVID here. It’s also got a nice reframing feature where the camera will kind of zoom and crop to a detected face as it moves around the frame (just like the old Kinect Video Chat app on Xbox 360.)
Lenovo has been putting a lot of work into getting the ThinkPad X13s to be enterprise ready as well. It even supports enterprise management systems like both Systems Center Configuration Manager and Intune.
By the way, the ThinkPad product manager describing the X13s to me said that he’s been using his for almost 3 days without having to charge the battery, so that’s another hugely impressive feature. Lenovo says the battery can last up to 28 hours.
I only got to spend a very short time with an early prototype of the new ThinkPad X13s, so I don’t know for sure how good it will be, but in my limited time with it, I was very impressed.