Qualcomm says most Windows games “should work normally” on its unannounced Arm laptops

Can Qualcomm replicate Apple’s feat and finally make Arm-based laptops worth buying, 15 years after the first attempts? Here’s an incredibly promising sign: Qualcomm is telling game developers what their titles should be already working on a wave of upcoming Snapdragon-powered Windows laptops – no porting required.

During a 2024 Game Developers Conference session titled “Windows on Snapdragon, a Platform Ready for your PC Games,” Qualcomm engineer Issam Khalil said the unannounced laptops will use emulation to run x86/64 games at near full speed.

Those laptops might be coming soon. Qualcomm has confirmed it will launch Snapdragon The edge.

a:hover]:text-gray-63 [&>a:hover]:shadow-underline-black dark:[&>a:hover]:text-gray-bd dark:[&>a:hover]:shadow-underline-gray [&>a]:shadow-underline-gray-63 dark:[&>a]:text-gray-bd dark:[&>a]:shadow-underline-gray”>Photo by Sean Hollister / The Verge

In 2020, we wrote about how Apple turned our concept of laptop performance upside down overnight, including how the Rosetta 2 translation layer allowed those chips to run older x86 apps without major performance issues. But while Windows has supported x64 emulation for a while, we didn’t get the sense that Qualcomm was as confident in it yet.

With Windows on Snapdragon, developers have three options, Khalil explains:

  • They can port their titles to native ARM64 for the best CPU performance and power consumption, as that way Qualcomm’s scheduler can dynamically reduce the CPU frequency.
  • They can create a hybrid ‘ARM64EC’ app where Windows and its libraries and Qualcomm’s drivers run natively, but the rest of the app is emulated, for near-native performance.
  • Or they can do virtually nothing, and their game should just work anyway – using x64 emulation.

He says developers don’t need to change the code or assets of their games to get full speed. Most games are graphically hindered by the GPU, not the CPU, and Qualcomm says GPU performance is unaffected. And while Qualcomm does notice that CPU performance is slightly affected when it translates or switches between x64 and ARM64, this only happens the first time a block of code is translated: “subsequent passes are direct access to the cache,” says Khalil.

Qualcomm says it has Adreno GPU drivers for DX11, DX12, Vulkan and OpenCL and will also support DX9 and up to OpenGL 4.6 via map layers.

As you can see in the slide above, there are some caveats: games that rely on kernel-level anti-cheat drivers (which have grown in popularity, although some players now fear hacks) will not work under emulation. For now, games that use AVX instruction sets won’t either, with Khalil suggesting developers use SIMDe to get a huge head start on converting them to NEON code. Those things are also true with ARM64EC.

a:hover]:text-gray-63 [&>a:hover]:shadow-underline-black dark:[&>a:hover]:text-gray-bd dark:[&>a:hover]:shadow-underline-gray [&>a]:shadow-underline-gray-63 dark:[&>a]:text-gray-bd dark:[&>a]:shadow-underline-gray”>Photo by Sean Hollister / The Verge

While he wouldn’t name specific games that work or how many games Qualcomm has tested, he says the company is looking at all the top games on Steam – and that this gives Qualcomm confidence that most titles should work.

It’s important for Qualcomm to be able to offer existing games, senior director of product management Micah Knapp told me in a recent interview: “In the immediate, near and not-so-near future, you have to provide a platform for what people already have. .”

“As much as I would like this, I don’t think all developers are going to wake up overnight and say tomorrow we’re going to port all our stuff to Arm,” he said.

Mind you, we don’t yet know how fast a Snapdragon X Elite chip really is at playing games, emulation or not. When I asked Knapp if he had seen Arm run a race faster And get better battery life than x86, he told me he hasn’t seen either – not both.

There were only about 33 people in the audience at Qualcomm’s GDC speech, including myself and at least one other Qualcomm employee – but I took a few rough photos from the slide deck I added above so you can get a closer look too can take.

The portability of x86 games is having a moment. Valve’s Steam Deck efforts brought more Windows games to Linux, Apple has a tool that brings them to Mac, and now Microsoft and Qualcomm may bring them to another flavor of Windows as well.

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