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Recently I’ve started reading about ARM processors coming out on low-cost and low power laptops, such as these unveiled at computex in Taiwan. I’m one of the Tech people at my company, and often I get asked for my opinion when picking out new equipment. In the coming years if these devices become prevalent, what would the advantages and disadvantage of picking one over an x86-based device be?

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closed as off topic by MDMarra, sysadmin1138 Feb 18 '12 at 0:55

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ARM chips are RISC processors that were created by Acorn and the design is now owned by ARM Limited. They license the design out to manufactures to add on to their own chips to create “systems on a chip” that contain many feature on one chip, and with the ARM design are able to include the CPU as well.

The ARM is very prevalent in low power embedded applications such as Ipods, Palm Pilots, and network routers. They are designed for low power consumption, meaning a laptop using an ARM processor is going to possibly have much better battery life than an x86 based laptop.

The disadvantage to the ARM processor is that it is not binary compatible with x86. This means your not going to be running windows any time soon. There are several Unix operating systems that can run on ARM however, such as Linux and BSD. Ubuntu will run on it, which is a very handy and nice linux distribution.

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Also, ARM are RISC-type, and x86 are CISC-type architectures. RISC instructions do one operation at a time, so they're quick, but you need a lot of them to get things done. CISC have both single operations and complex multi-operations. So you need less of them, but they take longer to finish. There are scenarios where each is faster. The biggest difference is that for the last 10 years, x86 has concentrated on performance, and ARM has concentrated on power consumption; so both are better at their own objectives. For laptops, the CPU isn't the largest power draw anyway, the screen usually is. – Chris S Oct 29 '10 at 12:55
Although it is a couple of years later, it might be notable to point out that there is an ARM compatible version of Windows currently available. – Xander Lamkins Nov 27 '12 at 20:05

GCC is not an x86 compiler... it also supports ARM, MIPS, PowerPC, even AVR, and many other architectures.

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The big problem, of course, is that there is no Windows. Although many of us (me included) would like to see Netbooks herald a new era of machines where the Linux OS would become as popular as Windows (or at least Mac!), it simply hasn't happened. The popularity of Windows (or the unpopularity of Linux) can only suggest Linux/ARM laptops will be marginalised just as Linux/x86 laptops are.

Additionally, I am concerned about the amount of time and effort invested in the x86 architecture for Linux, which will simply go to waste after an architecture migration. Compilers like gcc or icc are very advanced x86 compilers, which have been created over many years. This investment simply hasn't been made into ARM, and it can't be done overnight either.

While there are advantages such as the significantly lower power consumption (although is that even still true?) and physical size, I think they are simply dwarfed even by these two issues alone.

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Most of GCC's optimizations happen regardless of the instruction set being compiled for. In fact, GCC is one of the more used ARM compilers already. – Zan Lynx Jul 24 '09 at 14:00
Windows CE and XPe both run on ARM architectures. – Chris S Nov 2 '10 at 12:27

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