ARM vs x86 Processors: What is the Difference?

ARM or x86 processor?” is a question that is asked quite often in recent times in the computer industry and rightly so. X86 processors have been in use for the longest time but that is changing now. One might wonder, why? The answer is quite simple: power-hungry, overheating, and high-priced devices.

The transition from x86 processors to ARM-based chips is beneficial for consumers as Arm processors target high efficiency at low costs.

This guide provides a detailed analysis of differences in x86 processors and ARM and weighs their pros and cons.

A Brief History of Computer Processors

X86 processors have been singlehandedly dominating the computer industry since 1971. For a really long time, one corporation had a monopoly on the CPU market. The lack of competition led to the overpricing of x86 processors with no significant improvement in CPU performance over time. Meanwhile, a second company showed up after a while. However, the complaints of consumers about overpriced, power-hungry processors still remained unaddressed and it became more about choosing team blue or team red. 

This gap was filled by ARM processors that have been in the market for years. ARM chips have a number of advantages over their x86 counterparts such as less power consumption, less heat generation, and long battery life. That is the reason they have been used in mobile computing and portable devices for decades. Now, many tech companies are shifting to ARM architecture to improve CPU performance.


The main difference between ARM and x86 processors is their architectural design. ARM is RISC which stands for Reduced Instruction Set Computing while x86 is CISC which stands for Complex Instruction Set Computing. 

This means RISC processors have small, simple instructions which have simple instruction decoding. RISC calculations are faster as each calculation requires only one clock per cycle to execute. So ARM processors are faster as the instructions are reduced and the execution time of instructions is small. 

CISC processors, on the other hand, have complex, compound instructions which have a complex instruction decoding. In CISC, one instruction has multiple addressing modes. Thus CISC calculations are slower since each calculation may take multiple clocks for execution. Hence, x86 processors offer better performance but also consume a lot of power.

Power Consumption and Heat Generation

ARM processors require less hardware and fewer registers to execute commands. ARM chips conserve energy and are power-efficient compared to other processors. In battery-operated devices, the power efficiency results in longer battery life. Moreover, they generate less heat and prevent devices from overheating. That is the reason Dot 1 is also a fanless Arm mini PC since its Qualcomm Snapdragon chip generates very little heat. It also has the advantage that a quiet and cool mini PC allows you to work more peacefully.

X86 processors deliver high performance with the use of many registers. High performance also means high power consumption to an extent that some of the x86 processors consume five times more power than an ARM chip. In addition, overheating is one of the major problems that consumers face when dealing with x86 processors. X86 processors generate a lot of heat with inadequate cooling systems. Devices powered by x86 processors not only require a reliable source of power but are also less portable because of overheating.

Operating System and Licensing

Initially, ARM hardware was limited only to mobile devices because Arm-based devices run Android as the Operating System. One major limitation was that most of the OS like Microsoft, Linux, etc are run on x86 processors and x86 programs can not run on ARM. However, due to the increasing popularity of ARM processors, that is not the case anymore. Qualcomm partnered with Microsoft to bring Windows on ARM which allows Windows applications to run on Arm chips.

While x86 processors are manufactured by a few companies, ARM processors are not manufactured by ARM. Rather it licenses the rights to its partners like Apple, Qualcomm etc. This allows the companies to customize ARM chips and improve their performance, unlike x86 processors where rights are owned and protected by two or three companies.

Take Away

Many companies are shifting to ARM processors over x86 processors now. ARM chips are energy-efficient, generate less heat, and cost a lot less compared to x86 processors. Additionally, the performance of ARM chips has improved a lot in recent times and is at par with x86 processors making it the top choice of some of the leading tech companies in the world.

Apcsilmic has launched an ARM-based mini PC, Dot 1,  powered by Qualcomm Snapdragon chip. This Windows 11 mini PC saves you cost, space, and power while offering much more such as 4G support, portability, and energy efficiency.