New laptops are released yearly, and new processors and chips come with them. These processors are the heart of your computers, and for quite some time, they’re usually x86-based processors that Intel or AMD makes. But there’s another type of processor we’re starting to see on laptops: ARM, which is a bit peculiar since these types of processors are only usually found on smartphones and other portable devices.
Both x86 and ARM processors on laptops have pros and cons, which are usually opposed to each other, so it can be hard to know which one is right for you if you’re looking for your next laptop (if you even care about knowing the difference between these). We’ll talk about what these terms mean and how they work differently from each other.
Let’s start by talking about how processors work in general.
How Do Processors Work?
Processors are the brains of any computer and are in charge of processing all of your data, from running programs to ensuring everything runs smoothly. But how do they work at the most basic level?
Processors run using computer instructions, also known as machine code or machine language, which are the basic instructions that a computer’s processor executes to perform various tasks. These instructions are written in binary code, a series of 0s and 1s that the processor can understand and execute.
Instructions tell the processor what operations to perform, such as calculating, accessing memory, or interacting with input/output devices. Different processors are based on different ISA or Instruction Set Architectures, there are many ISAs, but the ones we’re comparing today are x86 and ARM, which are the most prevalent computer architectures in our modern world.
ARM and x86 are based on RISC and CISC, respectively. Bear with me here; I know you’re asking, what are those?
RISC stands for Reduced Instruction Set Computing. It’s a type of computer architecture that uses simple instruction sets that a computer can follow to perform tasks. These instructions are easy for the computer to understand and execute quickly, which makes RISC-based computers fast and power efficient.
On the other hand, CISC stands for Complex Instruction Set Computing. It’s a type of computer architecture that uses a larger and more complex set of instructions than RISC-based systems. These instructions are more powerful and can do more things, but they also take longer for the computer to execute. As a result, CISC-based computers may not be as fast and efficient as RISC-based systems, but they can still be helpful in certain situations because of their extra capabilities.
To sum it up, both RISC and CISC are basically types of computer architecture, while x86 and ARM are specific computer architectures. Now that we got that sorted out, let’s proceed to the main topic!
x86 is a type of computer processor architecture that is used in many desktop and laptop computers. It is called x86 because the first processors that used this architecture had names that ended in “86,” such as the 8086, 80186, and 80286.
Several different companies, including Intel and AMD, make x86 processors. They are known for their high performance and are often used in computers that need to perform demanding tasks, such as gaming, video editing, and running complex software. x86 processors are not as power-efficient as ARM processors, so they are generally not used in portable devices that rely on battery power, except laptops.
x86 processors are pretty old, with the first ones being introduced in 1978, but to keep up, x86 evolved into x86-64.
x86-64 (also called AMD64, Intel64, or x64) is a type of computer processor architecture that is a modern extension (of some sort) of the x86 architecture, which is used in most desktop and laptop computers. The “64” in x86-64 refers to the fact that these processors are designed to handle data in 64-bit chunks, which allows them to perform certain tasks more quickly and efficiently than x86 processors, which handle data in 32-bit chunks. x86-64 processors are made by several companies, including Intel and AMD, and are mostly used in most modern desktop and laptop computers.
ARM processors are named after the company that made them, ARM Holdings Plc, a semiconductor design and manufacturing company specializing in small, low-power processors for use in embedded systems. But while ARM is named after the company, ARM still has another meaning: Advanced RISC Machine.
ARM processors are RISC based and are used in a wide range of devices, including smartphones, tablets, and other portable devices, as well as in some laptops and desktops, which we’ll get more into later on.
Besides the fact that they’re being used on basically every smartphone, they are also famous for their customizability for different tasks and applications, allowing manufacturers to build devices optimized for specific uses. Examples include smartwatches, other wearables, smart switches, cameras, and other smart home devices.
What’s the Difference?
Here’s the thing, we already talked about the differences between x86 and ARM, but to sum it up:
- ARM CPUs are RISC-based processors, which we already know are more power efficient but less powerful than similar-sized x86 CPUs.
- x86 CPUs are a line of CISC-based processors that tends to be used in desktops and laptops
x86 or ARM?
If you’re wondering what CPU tech to choose for a computer or laptop context, it depends on your needs. If you’re looking for a laptop that can run most modern games and applications, x86-based processors are the better choice. But if you want something with low power consumption and long battery life, ARM-based processors might be better suited to your needs.
It’s also worth noting that x86-based chips will continue to be the popular choice in terms of performance for at least a few years. But ARM-based chips are also catching up in terms of performance, just observe your phones! They are ridiculously fast and can even edit videos and play resource-hungry games; they can do things that only computers could do before.
An even better example is Apple’s M1 and M2 processors, they’re used on the latest Macs and even iPads, and yes, they can multitask like there’s no tomorrow. But since they’re ARM-based, they are extremely efficient! They don’t even need fans to run since the processors don’t get that hot, and yes, M1 and M2 devices have excellent battery life.
It’s not just Apple too, Chromebooks have been doing it with Qualcomm chips for quite some time now, and while it’s not as powerful as M1 chips, they are extremely power-efficient and can appeal to many people.
So again, the question is, x86 or ARM? Even though x86 is an old architecture, they’re still more powerful than ARM, and they are certainly still better in gaming, 3D designing, and graphic work in general, and they’ll continue to do so for a couple more years.
But many people, including myself, predict that x86-based processors will go obsolete in a few years, a decade at most.
Why? In a modern world where battery life and power consumption matter, I think ARM-based processors are the better choice moving forward. They’re power-efficient (better for the environment), and hey, they’re also generally more affordable! And in a few years, they’ll be as powerful or even more so than x86-based processors.
Why bother with a power-hungry x86-based processor when you can do the same (or even more in the future) with ARM-based ones?
Congratulations, you’ve made it here! This was a bit hard and technical to explain, and we barely scratched the iceberg of how processors work. But I hope you enjoyed reading out my opinions on the future of processors.
If you have questions or thoughts (especially opposing opinions), I’d love to hear them, so make sure to shoot them in the comments below!