The first Windows-on-ARM laptops basically shipped with a smartphone processor and offered underwhelming performance. But Qualcomm has been working on chips designed specifically for PCs that balance power consumption, performance, and connectivity.

Last year the company unveiled the Snapdragon 8cx processor which is a 7 watt, octa-core processor that the company says is competitive with Intel’s 15 watt U-series chips… but that’s not something that’s really been put to the test yet, since no laptops with Snapdragon 8cx chips have shipped yet (unless you count the Surface Pro X, which features a modified version of the chip called the Microsoft SQ1).

Now Qualcomm is fleshing out its lineup with two less powerful processors aimed at more affordable always-connected PCs.

The Qualcomm Snapdragon 8c is an octa-core processor with Kryo 490 CPU cores, Adreno 675 graphics, and a Snapdragon X24 LTE modem with support for peak download speeds up to 2 Gbps. It can also be paired with a Snapdragon X55 modem for 5G connectivity.

The company says the processor can handle 4K HDR video playback at 120 frames per second and it supports 4K HDR video capture at 30 frames per second.

While the processor isn’t as powerful as the Snapdragon 8cx, Qualcomm says it does offer up to a 30-percent performance boost over the Snapdragon 850 chip which powers current-gen Windows on Snapdragon mobile devices.

Meanwhile, the Qualcomm Snapdragon 7c is more of an entry-level chip with eight Kryo 468 CPU cores, Adreno 618 graphics, support for 4K HDR playback at 30 frames per second, and a Snapdragon X15 LTE modem with peak download speeds of 800 Mbps.

Both chips are designed for thin, light, and fanless PCs — and Qualcomm is careful to use “PC” in its press materials rather than saying laptop, tablet, or desktop computer. Theoretically these chips could be used in any of those, but the reference designs Qualcomm is showing so far are laptops — including a new reference design for a Snapdragon 8cx Enterprise edition platform with additional security features.

Snapdragon 7c reference design

Snapdragon 8c reference design

Snapdragon 8cx Enterprise reference design

press release



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16 Comments

  1. I don’t think I’ll ever understand the appeal of always-connected devices for anything other than kiosks.

      1. I recognize that it adds to the Feature List, but that can include buzzwords “Full HD” or design details (8.6mm key spacing instead of 9.1mm key spacing). How often am I going to recognize an alert from an “always-connected” device then open my laptop and answer my email in the Uber?

        If we’re instead talking about “The modem and whole device sleeps until you wake the device, then it connects and you’re online wherever” then I see some convenience. But “always-connected” super-low-power CPUs which have poor compatibility so that they can ping the network while I’m not using them… Well, see above.

        1. I agree. The point of a phone always being connected is you’re expected to be able to respond to a phone call or instant messages as soon as the other person sends you it.
          So unless these devices can actually make and receive phone calls, there really isn’t much of a point to constant connectivity (for the user of the device anyway).

    1. For large companies who with mobile device management, that is where always-connected is incredibly important. I would imagine GPS’s are onboard some of these devices so if you deploy one of these devices with Find My Device activated in Windows 10 with Microsoft’s management tools, your company can easily locate and service a device.

  2. I think they need to think outside the box here. We’re talking about a laptop. So maybe make it a 16 core split into 10 Little (A5x) and 6 big (A7x)? It should still consume less than an i5 while boosting performance significantly for x86 emulation.

    1. Nope.
      There’s plenty of thermal room and battery capacity, that it’s quite pointless to use the small cores. You can use the “large cores” and just clock them lower. The benefit of getting rid of the small cores is that it’s easier to design, easier to code for, cheaper to produce. Also there’s no penalty to latency for thread migration.

      PS: ARM’s Large Cores are bigger than Intel’s Atom (miniaturised Celeron/Pentium), but they are much smaller than Intel’s Core-i/M or Ryzen processor cores.

  3. If you want an allways connected device, why not add a low power low pewrformance ARM SoC to an existing x86 system to take care of the “connected while powered off” part, and sidestep the entire compatibility issue?

      1. No, I dont think so. You should be able to add this to an existing WiFi card and install this function to any existing PC with an available m.2 slot. It doesn’t even need too many software modifications on Windows. You’d have a low power ARM SoC net to your wireless IC (maybe even a Cortex M0) some 1-200 MB of SPI flash and 1Gb of RAM. The ARM would run a headless linux server connected to the PC over the PCIe interface. You’d have an API in windows to subscribe a listener for your app, basically a daemon running on the linux. When is sleep state X the daemon would collect your events to the ramdisk (so that it’s fast, you have power anyways and wouldn’t deteriorate over time due to a lot of writing), and when the PC is powered back on the apps can collect whatever happened meanwhile. For some events the device could be allowed to wake up the entire PC (for example home network detected, pre-boot state from cold off, so when the PC is turned on, it’s instantly ready). Can be added to a 4/5G modem as well. This pretty much replicates all the functions and benefits the full ARM machines have while not giving up compatibility and still cheap.

        1. That would be a huge challenge for the RAM portion.
          It would make more sense to use a second system, and a Windows plugin that only sees the data from it. Basically a wifi card, with an ARM SoC, running its own linux script… like you described above. Something cheap like $10 for 16nm Quad Cortex A55, 1GB RAM, 8GB storage should do the trick (or step it up to a fancy $40 chip for 7nm Quad Cortex A77, 4GB RAM, 64GB storage).

          When an update is pushed, the Wifi-SoC receives it, parses it, and makes it available to Windows. When you Start Up the x86 Windows, or Wake it up… one of the first things Windows will do is see the data provided from the Wifi-SoC and show the notification.

          Unfortunately, you would be limited to using Apps either installed for your Notification Bar, installed natively, or as small plugins for web browsers. This wouldn’t be able to update inside of a web browser (you may need to refresh), as that requires much more complexity and it becomes a security concern.

          Another idea people have had was to use ARM processors natively, eg Windows 11, without any x86 system. And to get legacy support, code would either run off a co-processor within the ARM SoC. Or the legacy code can be run on a different compartment, sort of like a graphics card. These solutions are harder to pull off, but more rewarding, because it allows you to use the lower-power ARM cores as the main system so there won’t be any issues for “always connected” feature, and they offer great battery life savings for most of the time.

          Intel also has a solution to this, and it’s to make their Atom cores even more efficient (match ARM ?) and use these as the main processor for Windows and always-connected mode… but when performance is required, they will switch on extra cores that are Large. Basically an x86 version of LITTLE.big but I have little faith in Intel’s ability to pull this off well.

  4. As a part time sports photographer, having a hotspot or local wifi (if available) is always needed to send my edited photos and videos out to customers in time to meet their deadlines. Anything that speeds up this process and/or eliminates a step or two is always desired. These always connected 5G laptops should have a fast enough connection, but I don’t think the processors are powerful enough to edit quickly.

    I am keeping an eye on this category.

  5. This will be hugely popular in asia and europe, affordable, lightweight, low power tablets and laptops are the future. 7c tab for sub 300 and 8c tablet for sub 400 are great.

    1. They are in the future. Not necessarily to the hostile exclusion of all else.
      For example there’d be little market for these things if most phones could easily run other operating systems and readily connect to external monitors.

  6. What’s the TDP of the 7c? I wonder if it’s a good candidate for a fanless handheld PC with built in LTE.

    1. Hopefully, the intersection of people wanting a handheld UMPC with LTE and those okay with the current state of Windows 10 on ARM is a big enough market for at least 1 OEM to target.

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