Understanding the Differences Between X86 and ARM Processors

The processor is the central component of most of the electronic devices that we use in our day-to-day activities. There are processors with very different characteristics, but we can say that almost all of them are grouped into two general groups. We are going to explain the differences between x86 processors and ARM processors, as well as their advantages and disadvantages.

Processors are used on all types of devices, from large computers to phones and even advanced calculators. All these devices have very different characteristics, and therefore, equally different needs. This situation makes a processor invalid for all types of devices.

X86 with Maximum Performance

X86 Processor

The first group is the x86 processors. Intel and AMD are the two leading manufacturers, although there are some like VIA that is dedicated to particular market niches. All x86 processors are developed from the CISC (Complex Instruction Set Computers) architecture. The x86 processors allow you to perform several activities at the same time from a single instruction. Also, they can perform numerous simultaneous tasks without any of them being affected.

This makes them very sophisticated and advanced processors, allowing many complex calculations in a short time. The disadvantage of this design is that they need a lot of power to function.

The high energy demand for x86 processors is not a problem in computers since they are connected to the power grid and have unlimited power. In the case of laptops, the batteries are large capacity, and they can be operated for hours.

ARM Processors with the best energy efficiency

ARM Processor

As for ARM processors, they are based on the RISC (Reduced Instruction Set Computer) architecture, which is much simpler than CISC. These processors can do a much smaller number of calculations since they require several commands to act.

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RISC instructions are smaller and faster to process, so in part, the disadvantage of having to process several commands for a single action is minimized. Still, ARM processors are much less powerful than the x86.

The following image shows a fundamental diagram of the design of both types of processors:

The great advantage of ARM processors is that they are designed to have the lowest possible energy consumption while maintaining high processing power. Therefore, they are ideal processors for devices in which energy efficiency matters more than gross performance.

ARM processors are in all types of devices: smartphones, tablets, microwave ovens, dishwashers, washing machines, built-in control systems, toys, media players, and many more.

The most straightforward instructions of ARM processors imply a lower need for circuits, so they are much smaller processors. By having a smaller size, they are also cheaper to produce. The low manufacturing cost of ARM processors means that products that use them are not expensive.

Another critical difference is that x86 processors need the inclusion of an internal microcode that is responsible for implementing the instructions. This microcode can be optimized by the processor manufacturer, making it as fast and efficient as possible.

However, the need for a microcode also has its disadvantages. The first one is that the microcode must be developed, which means many hours of work and a large investment of money, making the final cost of products with x86 processors higher. Other disadvantages are the size of the microcode implementation, and the energy consumed by its operation.

ARM processors do not have this microcode, reducing the complexity and cost of their development.

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What does all this mean?

The higher power of x86 processors means that computers can do many things that other devices cannot do. With a computer you can have several web browsers with many tabs open, and you can play advanced video games while rendering a video in high resolution. You can also handle several application windows at once.

X86 Processor

All these are very demanding usage scenarios, which are totally out of reach of smartphones and tablets, even the most powerful models cannot. ARM processors have significantly improved in recent years, you can also work with two applications at the same time on your mobile, but it is still very far from what a high-end computer can do.

In return, the battery of your laptop is much more massive than that of a Tablet, and its duration is much shorter. A high-end Tablet can work for 11 hours with regular use; it is very difficult for a laptop to reach that figure. Not to mention the difference in weight between both devices.

They cannot use the same software

Since the two types of processors are so different, the software cannot work with both at the same time. Therefore you cannot use Photoshop on your Android tablet, nor can you use Android applications on your Windows computer. Each program must be developed for the type of processor it will work with.

Windows 10

This limitation also includes the operating system. You can indeed install Android on your PC and Windows 10 on the Raspberry Pi with an ARM processor, but they are versions created to work with these devices, so they are operating systems different from the Android of your mobile and Windows 10 on your PC.

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These are the main differences between x86 processors and ARMs; we hope you liked the article. Remember that you can share it on social networks to reach more users.

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