Microsoft’s x86 app emulator for ARM in the works for Windows 10 ‘Redstone 3’

Microsoft project "Cobalt" to bring emulation to run desktop apps on your phone with the Windows 10 Redstone 3 update.

Windows 10 Mobile Anniverary Update (Lumia 950)

Microsoft is reportedly building an x86 emulator for the ARM chip-based version of Windows 10. However, the company won’t integrate the feature until the “Redstone 3” update, which is scheduled to release in the fall of 2017 — months after the release of the Windows 10 Creators Update (Redstone 2).

Although Windows 10 on mobile devices hasn’t really taken off, Microsoft still believes there is a future for the platform, and Continuum is the key.

Continuum could save Windows 10 on mobile

Continuum is the feature that allows Windows 10 Mobile devices to connect to an external monitor and keyboard and mouse converting a phone into a PC-like experience. However, there is one “little” inconvenience, users are limited to run only those new modern apps from the Windows Store.

The main (and only reason) is because traditional desktop applications (e.g, Chrome, Photoshop, Spotify, iTunes) run on x86 architecture commonly supported on Intel and AMD processors. Mobile devices on the other hand, especially phones, run applications built for ARM64 architecture only supported on ARM processors.

Microsoft’s x86 app emulation on ARM chips

If there was a way for ARM-based devices to run x86 applications using an emulator, it could unlock the full potential of Continuum. This would allow users to run mobile apps as well as traditional desktop applications on a phone. And this is exactly what Microsoft seems to be doing.

A new report from Mary Jo Foley at ZDNet unveils that the software giant is working on an emulator (internally known as “Cobalt”) to enable x86 apps to run on ARM-based devices.

Cobalt could require new hardware

Of course, it’s not just about software. It’s a combination of software and hardware working together, meaning that ARM processors have to provide reliable performance for the emulator to deliver a good user experience.

In part this could be the reason why project “Cobalt” won’t be available until Qualcomm launches its Snapdragon 830 processor, which will include the features required for Windows 10 to run the emulator.

As a result, it’s likely that in order to run x86 applications on ARM-based devices, you may need to buy new hardware.

According to Mary’s reports, Microsoft’s new Cobalt technology is aimed primarily at phones, and possibly even tablet and desktop computers, but not servers. Also, the company is expected to target business users as they’re the ones in more need of this technology (at least initially).

What do you think about x86 emulation on ARM-based devices? Tell us in the comments below.

About the author

Mauro Huculak is a Windows How-To Expert who started Pureinfotech in 2010 as an independent online publication. He has also been a Windows Central contributor for nearly a decade. Mauro has over 14 years of experience writing comprehensive guides and creating professional videos about Windows and software, including Android and Linux. Before becoming a technology writer, he was an IT administrator for seven years. In total, Mauro has over 20 years of combined experience in technology. Throughout his career, he achieved different professional certifications from Microsoft (MSCA), Cisco (CCNP), VMware (VCP), and CompTIA (A+ and Network+), and he has been recognized as a Microsoft MVP for many years. You can follow him on X (Twitter), YouTube, LinkedIn and Email him at [email protected].