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If you could design your dream Windows laptop or tablet, what features would be at the top of your list? Today, most users cite high performance, all-day/multi-day battery life, and persistent connectivity to the cloud from anywhere, as their top requirements.
This dream is now a reality thanks to our Snapdragon compute platforms that power many devices including the Acer Spin 7, HP Elite Folio, Samsung Galaxy Book Go 5G, and Lenovo ThinkPad X13s – the world’s first laptop powered by our Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3. Snapdragon compute platforms include a modern SoC and breakthrough technology such as AI, 5G mmWave, and advanced camera and audio capabilities that deliver the high-performance and energy efficiency needed for today’s mobile Windows compute experience. We call this Windows on Snapdragon.
A few months ago at ARM DevSummit 2021 we saw a wealth of information about application development for Windows on Snapdragon using tools from Microsoft. Let’s take a quick look at a few highlights and what those mean for application developers who want to take advantage of this dynamic platform.
New Emulation Options for Improved Porting Flexibility
Since Windows 10, you’ve been able to run x86 (32-bit) Windows applications via emulation and ARM64 (64-bit Arm) Windows applications natively, allowing you to run existing 32-bit Windows apps without modification. To benefit from native performance or to run existing 64-bit Windows apps is simply a matter of recompiling them using the ARM64 build target (i.e., native 64-bit).
Traditionally, porting an app has been all-or-nothing since all the binaries within a process (including third-party libraries and plugins) need to be rebuilt. However, with the new Windows 11 application binary interface (API) target called ARM64EC (where EC stands for emulation compatible), it can now run both emulated and native 64-bit code in the same process with near-native performance. With Windows 11 now supporting x64 emulation, which enables your existing 64-bit Windows apps (e.g., C/C++, .NET, UWP, etc.) to run without modification, ARM64EC gives you flexibility over how to incrementally port your application to native 64-bit. You can also check out this detailed view of the ARM64EC ABI, which also includes information for an app developer to write and debug code compiled for ARM64EC
You can now start with full emulation if desired and port parts of your code over time (e.g., you can focus on performance-critical code first and port other code later). Best of all, dependencies like third-party libraries and plugins can now remain as x64 since an ARM64EC build will run them via emulation. This is a huge win when porting since you no longer have to depend on third parties to rebuild dependencies as native ARM64. See this blog from Microsoft for additional information about ARM64EC.
What You’ll Need for Developing for Windows on Snapdragon
To take advantage of these benefits, you’ll first need a Windows 11 device powered by Snapdragon on which to run and debug your apps. This can be a separate machine you connect to for remote deployment and debugging (discussed more below). You can use any device powered by Snapdragon compute platforms or use the Snapdragon Developer Kit for Windows (shown below and available through Microsoft). Also known as the ECS LIVA Mini Box QC710 Desktop, this kit provides a cost-effective solution in a compact form factor which is great for Windows on Snapdragon development. It’s powered by the Snapdragon 7c Compute Platform, supporting Windows 10 and Windows 11, and includes several connectivity options.
You’ll also need Visual Studio 2022, which supports the ARM64EC build target. During installation, be sure to select arm64ec > MSVC v143 – VS 2022 C++ ARM64EC Build Tools to install the necessary compiler. If you don’t have access to the full version of Visual Studio 2022 and just want to port or develop 64-bit native applications for Windows, you can download Visual Studio Code.
On the configuration side, turn on Developer Mode in Windows 11’s settings. This allows you to install and run unsigned apps
(e.g., UWP apps) from outside of Windows Store.
Then, create a Visual Studio project and add a configuration for the ARM64 or ARM64EC build target as described in this blog post from Microsoft.
When porting existing code to Windows on Snapdragon, pay attention to the following:
- Assembly Code: Identify all assembly code (e.g., assembly code embedded within C/C++ code). Since it’s likely written for an x86/x64 instruction set, you’ll need to rewrite it using the ARM64 instruction set.
- Processor-specific code: Similarly, identify and replace code that looks for specific x86/x64 registers.
- Architecture assumptions: Look for conditions that alter program flow based on x86 and x64 targets. This includes both compile-time (e.g., #ifdefs) and runtime conditions (e.g., if/else statements). You may need to add an additional branch for Windows on Snapdragon or replace the conditions with cross-platform code.
- Intrinsics: Review intrinsics to ensure that a) the compiler supports them and b) they perform as expected by your new build target.
- Out-of-date dependencies: Even though ARM64EC can run non-native 64-bit dependencies, you should be on the lookout for legacy and out-of-date dependencies, as they can still present potential security risks and may be worth replacing.
In addition to local debugging, you can also remotely debug Windows on Snapdragon devices – both from Windows on Snapdragon devices and other Windows devices (e.g., x64 devices). To enable remote debugging, ensure you have Remote Tools for Visual Studio 2022 for ARM64.
You’ll also need to enable Device Discovery for Remote Debugging in Windows settings. In conjunction with Developer Mode (mentioned earlier), this allows you to pair up your development machine with a remote target machine.
You should also enable Device Portal in Window settings. This provides a device administration page to administer the device remotely.
Since Windows 11 and Snapdragon supports Hyper-V, you can also run Windows 11 in virtual machines on your Windows on Snapdragon device to perform local or remote testing/debugging. Spinning up these VMs can be useful for kernel load and kernel driver development, as well as testing deployments and installations with different environmental settings.
There is also a growing toolset that you can take advantage of. You can use WinDBG as well as KDNET to perform kernel debugging. And there are now almost 50 apps in Sysinternals available here.
Windows Terminal is also worth checking out. It can run different consoles like PowerShell in the same window and supports the Windows subsystem for Linux (WSL). WSL allows you to use Linux development tools – both command-line and graphical – to further augment your Windows on Snapdragon development toolset.
In addition, Microsoft has joined Linaro, as a member of Linaro’s Windows on Arm Project, to help advance the developer suite. You can find information about specific tools like LLVM, Python, etc., on Linaro’s project page.
There’s never been a better time or easier way to port your applications to Windows on Snapdragon. Not only is the process easier, but your apps will be running on an always-on-always-connected device designed to give your users their dream mobile Windows experience.
Additional Blogs and Resources
For more details about developing for Windows on Snapdragon, check out the following videos from ARM DevSummit 2021 on YouTube:
- Developing for the Next Generation of Windows on Arm
- Introduction to Windows on Arm Development
- Developing and Debugging for Windows on Arm
Also, be sure to check out the following resources:
- Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3 Compute Platform
- Windows on Snapdragon on QDN
- Snapdragon Developer Kit now available for testing Windows apps on ARM
- Always on and Always Connected PCs: Facilitating Applications for Windows 10 on ARM
- Windows on ARM development – How do I get started with the tools?
- Game Developers: Windows 10 ARM64 Support Is Coming to Unreal Engine
Snapdragon is a product of Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. and/or its subsidiaries.