Qualcomm has been making some of the most powerful ARM-based chips for Android phones for well over a decade. But the company’s chips for laptops? They’ve been rather lackluster so far.
Now the company is hoping to turn things around with a brand new Snapdragon X Series line of chips for Windows PCs. They’ll be the first chips from Qualcomm that leverage technology developed by Nuvia, a chip design startup that Qualcomm acquired a few years ago.
Qualcomm isn’t sharing a lot of details about its upcoming chips yet – we’ll have to wait for the Snapdragon Summit later this month to learn more about actual features and, hopefully, performance.
But Qualcomm is announcing the new Snapdragon X branding for the upcoming chips, and confirming that they’ll use Qualcomm’s custom Oryon CPU cores rather than off-the-shelf ARM designs.
The company says those Oryon cores will bring “a quantum leap forward in performance and power efficiency,” but we still haven’t seen any actual numbers yet, so it’s unclear how they’ll compare with Apple’s M-series processor or the latest x86 chips from Intel and AMD.
When Microsoft first announced that it was going to build support for ARM chips into Windows, it seemed like a big deal, as it would bring the energy efficiency and always-connected features we’ve come to associate with smartphones and tablets to Windows PCs.
But when the first Windows on ARM computers began shipping, it became clear that the first generation failed to live up to that promise. Qualcomm’s first chips for PCs were basically the same as the company’s smartphone processors, but with higher power consumption limits. Systems with these chips weren’t as cheap as many had hoped. Battery life wasn’t as long. and generally speaking, most folks were probably better off spending their money on a system with an x86 processor instead… especially as Intel and AMD improved efficiency of their chips to a degree that allowed x86 laptops and tablets to offer battery life that was comparable to what you’d get from an ARM-based model.
And while Qualcomm updated its PC chip lineup several times in an effort to bring better performance, Windows on ARM has still been a tough sell, with few tangible benefits and several down sides – the biggest being that apps which have not been compiled to run natively on ARM-based processors tend to run slower on Windows PCs with Qualcomm processors than they do on computers with x86 chips.
Meanwhile Apple showed that it is possible to switch from x86 to ARM while delivering better performance and longer battery life. The company’s M-series chips have been designed in-house, and run circles around most competition when it comes to performance-per-watt.
So what did Qualcomm do? It bought a startup founded by former chip designers from Apple, Google, ARM, AMD, and Broadcom.
That team has been working for years to desktop-class performance to ARM-based chips for the past few years, and now Qualcomm is hinting that we could see the fruits of that labor in 2024.
Of course, it’s not like Intel, AMD, or Apple have been sitting still. So even if the first Snapdragon X Series chips do offer a “quantum leap” in performance over previous-gen Snapdragon 8cx series chips, it’s still not clear if they’ll be competitive with other current-gen processors when they arrive next year.
But at least they’ll have a snazzy new name that makes it easier to tell at a glance whether you’re looking at a Snapdragon for PC chip or a Snapdragon mobile processor.