The first Windows 10 PCs to ship with ARM processors featured Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 835 processor. It was one of the fastest smartphone chips when it hit the streets in 2017, but it was still pretty pokey by Windows PC standards.
The second crop of Windows on ARM PCs are just starting to hit the streets, and they feature the chip maker’s Snapdragon 850 processor. Qualcomm says the processor, which is basically a souped up version of the Snapdragon 845 smartphone chip, offers a 30 percent performance boost.
But next year the company plans to launch its first processor designed specifically for Windows PCs. The Qualcomm Snapdragon 8cx isn’t a modified smartphone chip. The company says the 7 watt, octa-core processor will offer performance that’s on par with a 15 watt Intel U-series laptop processor.
We’ll probably have to wait a little while to truly put that claim to the test — Qualcomm says it’s sampling the chip now, but it won’t show up in consumer devices until the third quarter of 2019.
And even then it’ll probably only be true for apps that are natively compiled for ARM architecture. Emulating ARM architecture to run Win32/x86 apps adds a little overhead.
Still, if Qualcomm comes anywhere near delivering on its promise, it could really shake up the PC chip space.
Right now that market is dominated by Intel, although over the past year or two AMD has produced some of its most competitive chips in years, leading to a growing number of AMD-powered desktop and laptop computers on the market.
Qualcomm’s Snapdragon chips probably won’t compete with AMD’s high-power “Threadripper” or Intel’s X-series chips anytime soon. But the Snapdragon 8cx will consume less power than its rivals, potentially offering longer battery life and support for thin, light, and fanless designs.
The chip also featured integrated support for 2Gbps 4G LTE networks.
Here’s a run-down of what we know so far about the Snapdragon 8cx:
- 8 x Kryo 495 CPU cores
- Adreno 680 graphics
- Support for up to 16GB of LPDDR4x 2133 MHz RAM
- Dual Spectra 390 image signal processors
- Support for 32 MP single camera or dual 16MP cameras
- Qualcomm X24 LTE modem
- Qualcomm Quick Charge 4+ fast charging support
- USB 3.1 Gen 2 support
Qualcomm says the new GPU offers twice the performance of the GPU in the Snapdragon 850 chip, as well as 60 percent better power efficiency. It can support up to two 4K HDR displays at once.
On the one hand, the new chip sounds very, very promising — PC makers might finally be able to justify charging $800 for Qualcomm-powered computers if they’re truly competitive with Intel-powered models. But I also wouldn’t be surprised to see the new chip push the price of ARM laptops, tablets, and 2-in-1s even higher.
On the other hand, this is all still somewhat theoretical until we see real-world tests… and until we see if app makers are willing to create native ARM/Windows versions of their apps. But Qualcomm did announce two significant wins today: Mozilla and Google are working on native ARM versions of their Firefox and Chromium browsers, respectively.