Copilot Plus PCs: Microsoft’s Bold Move to Outshine the MacBook Air

Microsoft is convinced its new Copilot Plus PCs will beat Apple’s M3 processor and spark a new generation of Windows laptops. Microsoft is confident that it finally nailed the transition to Arm chips — so confident that, this time around, the company spent an entire day pitting its new hardware against the MacBook Air.

On a recent morning at its headquarters in Redmond, Washington, Microsoft representatives set out new Surface devices equipped with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon X Elite chips inside and compared them directly to Apple’s category-leading laptop. I witnessed an hour of demos and benchmarks that started with Geekbench and Cinebench comparisons, then moved on to apps and compatibility.

Benchmark tests usually aren’t that exciting to watch. But a lot was at stake here: for years, the MacBook Air has been able to smoke Arm-powered PC chips — and Intel-based ones, too. Except, this time around, the Surface pulled ahead on the first test. Then it won another test and another after that. The results of these tests are why Microsoft believes it’s now in position to conquer the laptop market.

Performance: A New Era for Windows Laptops

Over the past two years, Microsoft has worked in secret with all of its top laptop partners to ready a selection of Arm-powered Windows machines that will hit the market this summer. Known as Copilot Plus PCs, they’re meant to kick-start a generation of powerful, battery-efficient Windows laptops and lay the groundwork for an AI-powered future.


“You’re going to have the most powerful PC ever,” says Yusuf Mehdi, executive vice president and consumer chief marketing officer at Microsoft, during the briefing. “In fact, it’s going to outperform any device out there, including a MacBook Air with an M3 processor, by over 50 percent on sustained performance.”

Windows laptops have fallen far behind MacBooks in performance and battery life ever since Apple’s transition to its own chips with the M1 launch in 2020. That makes Microsoft’s confidence levels here surprising, particularly given its rocky efforts with Windows on Arm over the past decade. Microsoft first attempted to transition Windows to Arm chips with the Surface RT in 2012, but performance was terrible and app compatibility was virtually nonexistent.

The launch of the Surface Pro X in 2019 was a lot better thanks to improved emulation and underlying Windows changes. It wasn’t enough to match Apple’s M1 launch months later, but it was a sign of things to come, with the start of a close Qualcomm partnership that now looks like it might finally pay off.

“It’s something we haven’t had in over two decades, we’ve not had the high ground on having the most performant device. We’re going to have that,” says Mehdi.

I won’t be fully convinced until I’ve spent enough time with one of these new Copilot Plus PCs, but everything Microsoft showed me around performance and battery life looks lightyears ahead of the Arm-powered Windows laptops that existed before today.

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Compatibility: Bridging the Gap

One of the big advancements is an improved emulator called Prism, which Microsoft claims is as efficient as Apple’s Rosetta 2 translation layer and can emulate apps twice as fast as the previous generation of Windows on Arm devices.

“We spent a ton of energy here. For apps that are not yet native, we’re now able to take advantage of Prism’s capabilities and solve this with the better energy, platform, and performance efficiency of the emulator,” says Windows and Surface chief Pavan Davuluri.


That should result in efficiency gains over the previous emulator, but Microsoft is being vague with its promises here, so I’m not expecting huge leaps. Emulation only goes so far anyway. Apple’s success with the M1 was thanks to developers quickly porting apps to be fully native. Windows needs that same level of support from its developer community.

Fortunately for Microsoft, two major shifts have happened in recent years. First, many of the biggest apps now natively support Arm chips: Photoshop, Dropbox, Zoom, Spotify, and top entertainment apps like Prime and Hulu are all native ARM64 apps now. Second, Google and many other browser makers are moving to ARM64. A native version of Chrome launched recently, followed by Opera just last week.

Firefox, Vivaldi, Brave, and Microsoft Edge are all also ARM64 native, so you won’t lose performance in any browser. That’s a big deal when you consider a lot of apps are web-based now and that we spend more time than ever inside a browser.

Overall, Microsoft believes 87 percent of total app minutes spent on these Copilot Plus PCs will be inside native apps. It’s still working on closing that other 13 percent, but the Prism emulator will help in the meantime.

Battery Life: An Impressive Leap

All of this app compatibility and performance is nothing without battery life, though. Microsoft uses a script to simulate web browsing. On 2022’s Intel-based Surface Laptop 5, it took eight hours, 38 minutes to completely deplete a battery; the new Surface Copilot Plus PC lasted three times that, hitting 16 hours, 56 minutes. That’s an incredible jump in efficiency, and it even beats the same test on a 15-inch MacBook Air M3, which lasted 15 hours, 25 minutes. That’s a whole hour and a half more.


Microsoft ran a similar test for video playback, which saw the Surface Copilot Plus PC hit more than 20 hours in a test, with the MacBook Air M3 reaching 17 hours, 45 minutes. That’s also nearly eight hours more than the Surface Laptop 5, which lasted 12 hours, 30 minutes. If those battery gains extend beyond basic web browsing and video playback, this will be a significant improvement for Windows laptops.

Microsoft AI: The Future is Now

These Copilot Plus PCs are equipped with a neural processing unit (NPU) from Qualcomm that hits 45 TOPS of compute for AI tasks. That results in more AI task operations per watt than the MacBook Air M3 and Nvidia’s RTX 4060.

Microsoft is also integrating more than 40 AI models directly into Windows on Arm to enable new experiences inside Windows and for app developers. Around 10 of these are small language models that will run in the background. These models will allow developers to bring AI experiences directly into their apps, and Microsoft’s battery life measurements include them running continuously on the NPU.

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“These really open the doors for new possibilities for AI experiences,” says Davuluri. “NPUs give us the magic of the ability to run fairly high-performance workloads.” Microsoft demonstrated its new Recall feature onstage today, which essentially allows you to time travel back to something you saw on your PC or were working on. This is all thanks to these AI models running in the background and cataloging everything you’re working on, so there’s an explorable timeline.

The Live Captions feature of Windows 11 is also getting AI-powered live translations to provide real-time translation of any video. Microsoft is also adding Auto Super Resolution to Windows 11, which automatically upscales games to improve frame rates and graphics resolution.

It’s still early days on the AI features inside Windows, but Microsoft has built a new kernel and compiler ready for these Arm-based chips. It’s a rework at the heart of Windows on Arm that should make it feel speedy to use and potentially unlock a new wave of AI features and apps.

“Every once in a while you get the opportunity to work on something special, where the technology is changing and you’re on the verge of discovering something,” says Mehdi. “I think we might have one of those moments.”

Industry Support: A Unified Front

Acer, Asus, Dell, HP, Lenovo, and Samsung are all launching new Copilot Plus PCs, which will ship initially with Qualcomm processors. If everything Microsoft showed me holds up in real-world testing, this is a monumental moment for Windows laptops — with just as big an impact as a new release of Windows itself.


Microsoft’s Copilot Plus PCs represent a bold step forward in the company’s efforts to reclaim the high ground in the laptop market. With improved performance, better battery life, and robust AI integration, these new devices are poised to challenge Apple’s dominance. While the full impact of these advancements remains to be seen, the potential for a new era of Windows laptops is undeniable. The collaboration with major laptop manufacturers further strengthens Microsoft’s position, suggesting a bright future for Windows on Arm.


1. What are Copilot Plus PCs?

Copilot Plus PCs are a new generation of Windows laptops powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon X Elite chips, designed to deliver superior performance, battery life, and AI capabilities.

2. How do Copilot Plus PCs compare to the MacBook Air?

According to Microsoft, Copilot Plus PCs outperform the MacBook Air with M3 processors by over 50 percent in sustained performance and offer better battery life.

3. What is the Prism emulator?

The Prism emulator is an advanced tool in Copilot Plus PCs that efficiently emulates apps not yet natively supported on Arm chips, similar to Apple’s Rosetta 2.

4. What AI features are integrated into Copilot Plus PCs?

Copilot Plus PCs include over 40 AI models that enable features like Recall, live translations, and Auto Super Resolution, enhancing both productivity and entertainment experiences.

5. Which companies are launching Copilot Plus PCs?

Major manufacturers like Acer, Asus, Dell, HP, Lenovo, and Samsung are all set to launch Copilot Plus PCs, expanding the availability and impact of these new devices.

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