Back in December 2017, Microsoft and Qualcomm announced a partnership to pair Windows 10 and Snapdragon Arm processors for ultra-thin LTE-connected netbooks with a 20+ hour battery life. This Windows-on-Arm initiative has faced several stumbling blocks, with the the first-generation HP Envy x2 and Asus NovaGo criticized for poor performance and app compatibility in Windows 10, due in large part to an inline x86 emulator for apps written for Windows on Intel or AMD processors.
Now, a group of programmers and device hackers are working to bring proper support for Ubuntu to Arm-powered Windows laptops, starting with first-generation Snapdragon 835 systems, like the HP Envy x2 and Asus NovaGo. The aarch64-laptops project on GitHub provides prebuilt images for the aforementioned notebook PCs, as well as the Lenovo Miix 630.
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Although Ubuntu and other Linux distributions support aarch64 (ARMv8) by default, various obstacles including the design and configuration of Qualcomm Snapdragon processors make these default images not practically usable. The aarch64-laptops project developers are aiming to address these difficulties, though work is still ongoing. Presently, the TouchPad does not work properly on the Asus, with all three lacking proper support for on-board storage and Wi-Fi, which rely on UFS support. According to their documentation, this is being worked on upstream.
Likewise, accelerated graphics are not yet supported, but Linux benchmarking website Phoronix notes that this should be provided by the freedreno project. The component parts are expected to be successfully integrated into a working daily driver "within a few months."
With that available, it is conceivable that Arm-powered laptops on Linux may well be more performant than on Windows, as open source apps available through Ubuntu's package repository will run natively on the Arm processor, rather than rely on an inline x86 emulator.
Relatedly, Mozilla announced a partnership last December with Qualcomm to develop a properly optimized version of Firefox for use on aarch64.
The big takeaways for tech leaders:
- A group of programmers and device hackers are working to bring proper support for Ubuntu to Arm-powered Windows laptops, starting with first-generation Snapdragon 835 systems.
- This is still a work-in-progress, as UFS support needs to be finished to support internal storage and WiFi, likewise, accelerated graphics will rely on freedreno integration.
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James Sanders is a technology writer for TechRepublic. He covers future technology, including quantum computing, AI, and 5G, as well as cloud, security, open source, mobility, and the impact of globalization on the industry, with a focus on Asia.