ARM powers the vast majority of the handhelds on the market right now. From the Nintendo Switch to the RG35XX lineup, you can bet your bottom dollar it’s got an ARM chip all up in its guts. But while this architecture has its many advantages, we’ve seen many signs of stagnation in the ARM handheld scene.

The first and biggest thing – why are all these devices using the same chipsets? The RK3566 is no slouch for PS1 and below, sure, but it still struggles with some N64. Why are we seeing brand-new devices in 2024 with this chipset? Perhaps the few companies who have managed to branch beyond this chipset have struck some sort of Faustian bargain in order to be able to shove a better chipset into their devices for such affordable prices (cough cough, Retroid) – but from the consumer’s perspective, it sure looks like everyone else is getting lazy.

RGXX35+H N64 Menu

N64 emulation appeared to be in jeopardy circa 2000

On the software side of things, the recent Yuzu/Citra takedown a few weeks ago seems to have brought down another major casualty in Dynarmic. For those unaware, Dynarmic is a dynamic recompiler for ARM devices. Basically, it makes the work of porting x86 emulators to ARM much easier. However, it was primarily developed by Tropic Haze LLC – so down it went, along with Yuzu and Citra. With that, it seems like the development of more emulation software for the ARM platform might slow down quite a bit.

Now, all is not lost – there is a mirror of the Dynarmic repo being re-hosted on GitHub right now, and given that Dynarmic had little to anything to do with the Yuzu controversy, it’s unlikely that it’ll be taken down again as Nintendo shifts its gaze elsewhere. However, it’s undeniable that the Yuzu lawsuit has had a massive effect on the emulation community as a whole – and for a platform that already lacks a lot of software support and ‘gamer clout’, the temporary takedown of Dynarmic can’t have been much help for Android.

But I’ve complained enough about that platform – what about Linux? Well, the fallout from Dynarmic’s main devs being axed is going to hurt all of your Linux mains as well, unfortunately. Dynarmic has been used in many major ARM emulators, from Yuzu to AetherSX2. It’s also been used in a few x86 emulators as well, but it’s had less influence over there due to most x86 emulators already having a mature codebase of their own. In any case, Dynarmic is a fairly widespread, cross-platform recompiler that a lot of emulators are/were based on. That might just make the software disparity between x86 and ARM worse than it already is.

So… where do we go from here? Well, unfortunately, this writer can’t predict the future for certain. However, I do have my hopes held high in one project – Cassia.

A render of the Cassia project logo, alongside the Cassia wordmark. The typical wine-glass has been replaced with a gear, to represent the in-development status of the emulator.

Developed by the old team behind Android-exclusive Switch emulator Skyline, Cassia promises to bring x86 gaming (most notably, all those Steam games you just bought!) to Android. While it’s no solution for ARM Linux fans, and it’s still quite far from its first release, Cassia may just be a game-changer for Android handheld enjoyers.

But even if it isn’t Cassia, I feel like the best and easiest way forward for these disparate platforms is some sort of compatibility layer. It’s a pain to develop for two platforms at once, and given the volatility of the Android platform in particular, I think that relying on x86 translation layers might just save the day. Imagine the productivity capabilities! Running full-fat Photoshop, Microsoft Office, Blender, or all sorts of other programs designed for x86 workstations on your ARM handheld, allowing you to make all your work truly portabl-

-oh, people don’t want that? Do they just want a funny Italy Senate girl game on their Samsung phone? This whole website is about video games? News to me, I suppose, but we’ll go with it.

Anyways, what do you think? Is the ARM platform doomed? Am I thinking of this the completely wrong way? Are you an Italian senator, come to send me a cease-and-desist over that last joke I just made. Sound off in the comments, or come yell at me in particular down on our Discord server!

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