When Apple announced the M1 processor, it highlighted the possibility of virtualizing Linux but remained coy about Windows. One of the great advantages of using Intel processors on the Mac is that Windows is also built for Intel processors. Even in a virtual machine, apps ran at near-native speeds.
So what happens with the M1? The major virtualization could run the Intel version of Windows in emulation, but anyone who remembers the bad days of Virtual PC on PowerPC will know that running an entire emulated system can be painfully slow.
But Microsoft also makes a version of Windows that runs on ARM processors, currently available only when preinstalled on a “Windows 10 on ARM” PC such as Microsoft’s own Surface Pro X. In theory, a standalone version of Windows 10 for ARM might actually work well inside a virtual machine on an M1 Mac—running at more or less native speeds, just like the Intel version of Windows on Intel Macs.
It was unclear if other technical roadblocks might remain that would make this less likely to happen. But things are clearing up, as 9to5Mac’s Michael Potuck reports:
Alexander Graf was the first to successfully run an ARM Windows virtualization on an M1 Mac. He used the QEMU open source machine emulator and an Insider Preview of Windows. Now, based on the work by Graf, there’s a new build of the open source ACVM launcher (by Khaos Tian and 3 others) that works with QEMU to run ARM Windows on ARM Macs.
In short, using a beta version of Windows on ARM downloaded from Microsoft, people have used the open-source QEMU emulator to get Windows running on Apple silicon. You can watch Martin Nobel’s YouTube video to see the process in action. Nobel even ran GeekBench 5 on the M1 Mac, and ended up with higher test scores than the Surface Pro X.
This might explain why Apple has shifted from being tight-lipped about Windows to Craig Federighi telling Ars Technica:
That’s really up to Microsoft… We have the core technologies for them to do that, to run their ARM version of Windows, which in turn of course supports x86 user mode applications. But that’s a decision Microsoft has to make, to bring to license that technology for users to run on these Macs. But the Macs are certainly very capable of it.
It seems to me that it’s only a matter of time before Windows on ARM is officially running on M1 Macs. The ball is in their court. There seem to be few technical roadblocks. It makes too much sense.