While the news regarding overall PC sales has been rather bleak lately, there is one section of the market that is defying the downward trend, actually growing: arm-mounted laptops.
How Toms Hardware Reports (opens in a new tab)sales of Arm-based laptops not only increased last year, but are expected to increase again this year as well.
This is a remarkable change of fortune, as the laptop market has been dominated primarily by devices equipped with Intel (and to a lesser extent AMD) hardware, especially CPUs. There have been attempts in the past to release laptops with a specially designed version of Windows known as Windows on ARM (and sometimes Windows on Snapdragon) and an ARM-based architecture.
Arm System on Chips (SoC) was mainly used in mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets, and the idea behind these early ARM-based laptops was to bring some of the benefits of these devices, such as long battery life and near-instantaneous boot, for laptops.
However, that didn’t go as planned.
Mostly without hands
The problem with ARM-based Windows laptops, at least in those early days, was that while they provided Some these features, especially the long battery life, were hampered by poor performance, abysmal software support (many apps were not ARM compatible) and high prices.
This has led to ARM-based laptops being rejected by many people for a long time. There were of course some bright spots. Many of the best Chromebooks use ARM processors, and these popular laptops have shown that you can create great devices with hardware.
However, the Chrome OS that Chromebooks run on is an OS that has been designed to be as lightweight as possible, with apps (including Android apps) that are ARM compatible.
For people who wanted a more flexible and robust operating system, Arm-based laptops remained unprofitable.
Go to Apple
While Microsoft’s attempts to make Windows laptops run on Arm hardware failed, Apple came along and made it look easy.
In 2020, the company launched its M1 – an ARM-based SoC that debuted in the MacBook Air (M1, 2020), which in my opinion is still one of the best laptops money can buy – and the 13-inch MacBook Pro (M1, 2020). 2020).
Suddenly, the potential of Arm-based laptops was realized. There were powerful laptops that outclassed previous Intel-based models while significantly extending battery life. Most importantly, they ran the full macOS operating system, and Apple made sure that major apps were compatible with the M1 or could run through the compatibility layer using Rosetta 2.
Much of the criticism of Windows on Arm laptops, and even Chromebooks, could not be applied to these new MacBooks. The performance matched or exceeded Intel and AMD chips, you could run a full-featured operating system with all your favorite apps, and the prices weren’t exorbitant. Apple will never release a budget laptop, but these M1 machines launched at the same price as previous models.
While the tide is lifting all boats, Apple’s success with the M1 MacBooks means the overall Arm laptop market has surged, a report from Counterpoint studies (opens in a new tab) showing that market share has increased from 11% in 2021 to 13% in 2022 and is expected to reach 15% this year.
The scale of Apple’s impact on the Arm laptop market is quite clear, with Apple holding a whopping 90% share compared to the more established ARM chip makers MediaTek and Qualcomm.
There will also be new Windows or Chrome OS laptops this year, based on MediaTek and Qualcomm hardware, which, along with the new Apple M2, M2 Pro and M2 Max chips found in a new batch of recent MacBooks, have made Counterpoint Research is sure that the market share of ARM laptops will continue to grow over the next few years, reaching 25% by 2027. This is certainly ambitious and would mean that sales of ARM-based laptops will overtake AMD-based laptops, but unlike a few years ago, I can really see it happening.
What does this mean for Windows, Intel and AMD?
Despite Apple’s clear dominance of the ARM market, followed by Chromebooks, this also represents an opportunity for Windows on Arm devices. The stigma surrounding Arm devices has mostly evaporated due to Apple’s successes, and while I often hesitate about Microsoft copying Apple, I’ll do it here: Microsoft! Copy Apple!
In particular, make sure there is a growing library of Windows applications and software that are compatible with Arm devices. If app developers hesitate, come up with a solution that works just as well as Apple’s Rosetta 2. Basically, people need to be able to take a Windows laptop on their shoulder and run all their favorite apps.
Laptop manufacturers such as Dell, HP and Lenovo will certainly be watching this growing market and will be looking to enter it. We hope to see an increase in laptops using the latest MediaTek and Qualcomm technologies from these brands. The more choice, the better, especially since despite my love for the M1 and M2 MacBooks, I don’t want Apple (or any company) to have such market dominance.
For Intel and AMD, the increase is more worrisome. Laptops never seemed to be a priority for AMD, but it would still sting if ARM laptop sales overtook its own by 2027. As for Intel, it will still have a healthy market advantage, but it won’t be comfortable losing a market to share with rivals. Both companies will have to be more competitive offering similar benefits as Arm, especially when it comes to battery life.
To be fair to both sides, especially Intel, companies have been putting more emphasis on improving performance and thus extending laptop battery life, which remains one of the biggest concerns for customers. The latest Intel processors even use a combination of performance cores and performance cores that have been part of the ARM architecture for some time.
So regardless of the platform, I think the development of ARM laptops is nothing but a good thing. Will I one day find an ARM-based Windows laptop that I really want to use? Stranger things have happened.