ARM Vs Intel Processors: What's the Difference?

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Judit Llordés

When choosing a smartphone or tablet, you will notice that some models use Intel processors, while others are based on the competing ARM architecture. The latter field includes the Samsung Exynos, Qualcomm Snapdragon, Nvidia Tegra and Apple A7 platforms.

Both chip families are designed for low-power operation to give mobile devices the long battery life they need.

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Technically, however, they represent different philosophies: the ARM architecture is designed to be as simple as possible, to minimize energy waste, while the Intel range uses a more complex design that benefits from compatibility with the company) Desktop CPU and laptop.

It's also worth noting that ARM has been powering portable devices for decades, while Intel is relatively new to this area. For now, ARM is the dominant architecture - iPads and iPhones exclusively use ARM, as do Windows Phone devices, so if you're interested in those platforms, the distinction between ARM and Intel isn't currently something you need to worry about.

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What are ARM and Intel processors?

Processors are a small chip that provides a computer's input and output communications so to speak. ARM processors are one type of architecture and therefore do not have a single manufacturer. Both Apple and Android manufacturers use this technology in their mobile devices, while Intel is generally used in computers.

In this article we will look at the various differences and applications of each type.

CISC against RISC

Intel processors (commonly referred to as X86 in correlation with 32-bit Windows programs) use Complex Instruction Set Computing while ARM uses Reduced Instruction Set Computing. Although they both execute commands rather quickly in 2020, the former uses slightly more complex instructions with several loops.

ARM processors use only one loop to execute a command, so it reduces functions. Although Intel processors use simpler command code, several cycles must be performed before the action is completed.

Mobile and desktop devices

Intel processors are commonly found in larger technologies such as desktop computers, while ARM is often found in mobile devices. A contributing factor to this is that ARM processors rely heavily on software for performance features while Intel relies on hardware.

ARM (generally) works best in smaller technologies that don't have access to a power source at all times, and Intel focuses more on performance making it the best processor for the larger technology. But ARM is also making great strides in the technology sector and is expected to far outperform Intel in the near future.

Energy consumption

ARM processors not only consume less battery due to their single cycle processing set, but also have a lower operating temperature than Intel processors. Intel processors are focused on performance and for most PC or laptop users this is not a problem at all because the computer is constantly connected to power.

ARM processors, on the other hand, are perfect for mobile devices as they reduce the amount of power required to keep the system up and running and perform user-requested tasks.


ARM chips are generally slower than their Intel counterparts. This is largely due to the fact that they are designed for low-power processing. While most users wouldn't notice any difference in their respective devices, Intel processors are designed for faster processing.

Android processors

Intel was part of some Android mobile devices, but ARM processors still reign in this market.

Intel-based devices can run the full range of Android apps, even those originally written for the ARM architecture. However, if an app contains ARM-specific code, it must be translated before it can run.

This takes time and energy, so battery life and overall performance may be affected. Whether this is a serious issue is up for debate: our reviews indicate that Intel tends to lag behind ARM in battery life, but the gap isn't huge and overall performance is generally very good.

In any case, Intel is working hard to encourage developers to produce native Intel versions of their apps, so it is hoped that translation will become progressively less of a hassle.

The preferred processor for Windows

It is also worth paying attention to the difference between ARM and Intel if you are considering buying a Windows tablet. Here, Intel is the dominant architecture - in the past, if you chose an ARM-based tablet you'd get a stripped-down variant of Windows called Windows RT, which can run full-screen apps from the Windows Store but not regular desktop software.

In 2022, things changed with the release of the Surface Pro X. Although the tablet's chassis hasn't changed much from previous versions, Microsoft hasn't given up on the ARM processor. Surface Pro X is a tablet with an ARM processor running full Windows rather than a watered down version.

The app releases users from a selection of Microsoft Store-only apps to multiple apps with a single limitation. To run applications on Surface Pro X, users need to find the 32-bit compatible app, because the 64-bit versions are not yet compatible. 

We're thrilled to see Microsoft isn't giving up on ARM processors as part of its mobile product line, but there are still a few things that may hinder your ability to use it.

Depending on what you need your Windows-based tablet for, the ARM processor might work fine. But if you're a gamer or want more from your tablet, it's probably best to stick with Intel.

Which processor is better?

At this point, both ARM and Intel processors have their advantages and disadvantages. Choosing what's best for you depends a lot on what you'd like to do with your tech devices and whether they're compatible with other hardware and software.

Intel is faster and more powerful than ARM processors. But ARM processors are more optimized for mobile devices than Intel processors (in most cases).

The past two years have caused an upset for people who were diehard one or the other. Intel-based Macs will soon be releasing with Apple's ARM processors, while we've seen some great things coming from Microsoft. 

Time will tell, but there are constant improvements in both processors, meaning what's great now may not be so great a year from now. With Apple's M1 chip hitting the market in 2021, the company says this ARM chip will produce double the power for a third of the battery consumption.

Further Reading:

  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 8cx 5G, the first processor with 5G and 7nm for PC
  • Why is ARM so important for Huawei processors?
  • MateBook X Pro (2022): This is Huawei's answer to the MacBook Pro
  • Which CPU Should I Buy? Intel Core i5 vs. Intel Core i7
  • How to improve and speed up your PC?
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