PC makers have been shipping Windows PCs with Qualcomm’s ARM-based processors since 2018, and so far they’ve mostly been pretty underwhelming when it comes to bang for the buck. Qualcomm is hoping to turn that around with its new Snapdragon X line of high-performance chips for PCs.

The first is the Qualcomm Snapdragon X Elite, which is a 4nm chip that incorporates 12 Qualcomm Oryon CPU cores, Adreno graphics, and an integrated Hexagon neural processing unit that the company says makes this chip a “generative AI powerhouse.” Qualcomm says the first PCs featuring Snapdragon X Elite chips should arrive in mid-2024.

Qualcomm’s Oryon CPU cores are the first to incorporate technology from Nuvia, a chip design company that Qualcomm acquired two years ago in an effort to better compete with Apple, which currently makes some of the highest performance PC chips available using custom designs based on ARM architecture.

The Snapdragon X Elite has 12 Oryon cores. Unlike most high-performance ARM or x86 chips available these days, there are no Performance and Efficiency cores. All of this chip’s CPU cores are high-performance Oryon cores. But you do get a little bit of extra performance when running single-threaded tasks, since one or two cores can hit top speeds up to 4.3 GHz, while when the processor is firing on all 12 cores, speeds top out at 3.8 GHz.

The chip’s Qualcomm Adreno integrated graphics offers up to 4.6 TFLOPS of GPU performance as well as support for DirectX 12.

And the Qualcomm hexagon NPU delivers up to 45 TOPS of AI performance. Qualcomm says its chip is also the “first PC processor with an integrated always-sensing ISP” that can be used for things like detecting if a person is front of the computer or eye tracking, among other things. This can, for example, allow a PC to lock the screen when you look away, automatically center you in the frame during video calls, or make it appear as if you’re looking at the camera when you’re actually glancing a bit to the side.

Other features include support for up to 64GB of LPDDR5x-8533 memory, PCIe Gen 4 and UFS 4 storage, support for up to two 4K displays, and support for WiFi 7, Bluetooth 5.4, USB4, and multiple cameras (thanks to a dual 18-bit Qualcomm Spectra image signal processor).

Interestingly, there’s no integrated modem, which means it’ll be up to device makers to decide whether to offer 4G and/or 5G connectivity, but the Snapdragon X Elite processor is designed to work with an optional Snapdragon X65 modem.

Qualcomm says the end result is a chip that’s up to twice as fast as an x86 processor that would be used in comparable Windows PCs, while consuming far less power. The company says, for example, that its X Elite chip is up to ttwice as fast as an Intel Core i7-1355U or Core i7-1360P processor while running at the same power level, or offers the same level of performance while using 68 percent less power.

It can also offer the same level of performance while running at 30 watts as an Intel Core i7-13800H chip running at 90 watts. In at least some tests, it’s also said to be able to best an Apple M2 processor.

It’s worth keeping in mind that Qualcomm’s claims haven’t been independently verified yet, and that the company seems to be focusing primarily on multi-core performance results rather than single-core performance. It also seems like the chip may top out at around 50 watts.

It’s also important to keep in mind that it takes more than processing power to deliver truly speedy performance: it also takes software that’s optimized to run on that hardware. And that’s an area where the Windows ecosystem has some catching up to do. It’s unclear if that will change by the time PCs with Snapdragon X Elite chips hit the market in 2024.

Part of the reason Apple’s chips are among the fastest around is that Apple makes the hardware and software that runs on its computers, and has pretty tight control over the ecosystem. That allowed Apple to develop Rosetta software that allowed apps designed for x86 chips to run at near-native speed on Macs with ARM-based Apple Silicon processors, and to encourage developers of many popular Mac apps to update their programs to run natively on Apple Silicon, since all newer Macs have Apple’s ARM-based chips.

Windows PCs with Qualcomm processors have faced several challenges. First, Qualcomm’s chips haven’t historically been as fast as Apple’s. Second, with different companies responsible for making the hardware and software, the code that allows x86 Windows apps to run on PCs with Qualcomm chips hasn’t been as impressive as Rosetta, and many Windows apps that aren’t compiled for ARM have been sluggish on PCs with Qualcomm chips. And third, there’s far less incentive for Windows app makers to port their apps to ARM, since there are so few Windows on ARM computers available.

So even if the Snapdragon X Elite is as fast and efficient as Qualcomm says, it remains unclear whether that will be enough to make PCs with this new processor competitive with models featuring Intel or AMD chips.

Also worth keeping in mind? Right now Qualcomm is comparing its chips against current-gen x86 and Apple processors. But with the Snapdragon X Elite set to launch in mid-2024, it’ll actually be going head-to-head with next-gen chips from at least some of those companies.

press release and additional analysis at AnandTech

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  1. Still trying to run Windows? Qualcomm is sure a stubborn idiot. Stop it, once and for all, we want x86 CPU’s because they are infinitely more versatile.

    1. I doubt the average person really understands the difference and the versatility they’re sacrificing in exchange for fanless operation and long battery life. Which I’m pretty sure wouldn’t have to be sacrifices if they were just willing to make their systems Systemready compliant. I suspect that Microsoft might have different ideas about that.

  2. Let’s see how this one pans out. As the article says, even if Qualcomm’s claims are true (pffft), there’s the OS too. Not all issues with Windows on ARM is due to Qualcomm’s past lackluster ARM chips.

    Of course Linux is out of the question. Qualcomm isn’t exactly an open source advocate and their proprietary drivers are usually one off drops on release and abandoned. There’re sometimes reverse engineered drivers but those tend to be more hobby projects that rarely end up in a state for average Linux end users to use.

    1. Exactly.
      I’m more curious as to how it compares with AMD, and the likes of their mobile chipsets. Anywhere from an underclocked 7840u, upto an overclocked 7840h.

      Can Qualcomm match the performance of burst, total, graphics, and what is its throttling profile. Does it do that at battery life parity, or is it less.

      Comparing to Intel i7-1355U, 1360P, 13800H are kind of pointless to me. But again, I might be wrong and this chipset is as good as they claim…. only one way to find out.

      PS: IF this chipset is that good and it’s due to their Oryon core design, which can scale up from 0.5W to 4W effectively, well interesting. Then we might see Oryon core make its way to phones like in QC 8g4 and they might take up a more simplified design 2+8 where they use the Cortex-A730 cores to downclock and upclock, eliminating the need for the not-so great Cortex-A515 cores. Those small cores can live in smartwatches, and microcontrollers.

  3. But I want my computer to not have an always-sensing ISP.
    I’d also like it to not have a locked bootloader or special snowflake firmware. And since there wasn’t a single mention of Systemready anywhere in there, I’m forced to assume that it has both those things.

    1. Yep. Systemready or bust. I’m not giving up Linux for the “joy” of running Windows.

      Plus, they’d better have a proper equivalent to Rosetta2.

  4. While all the marketing claims can be ignored until we see PCs next year, good luck to them.

    I also find this from the Ars article funny:

    ’Qualcomm says it will feature “upgradeable drivers.” The company wouldn’t say how many years of driver update support it planned to offer for the GPU (or any other component of the SoC, for that matter). Qualcomm only provides three years’ worth of hardware support for its Snapdragon chips in Android phones.’

    Qualcomm isn’t known for providing software updates so, I guess that’s why “upgradable drivers” is part of their marketing…

    1. The good thing there are open source snapdragon drivers which support even phones from 10 years ago, currently many apps are using them

    2. I still have crashes with my windows arm dev kit running a snapdragon 8cx gen 3 CPU. The GPU crashes when loaded above 50% for some reason which is a shame as it’s pretty capable. A driver update might fix it but they’re rare.

      1. Seems like a YOU problem. There is definitely consumer devices out there with the QC 8CX g3 which run proprietary Windows 11S and are pretty stable.

        This one uses a custom architecture (Oryon) and it’s newer so I can expect it to be buggier. But I doubt Qualcomm and Microsoft and the Manufacturers won’t do their bit to ensure some semblance of software quality.

        I won’t be expecting iPadOS level of polish with these guys, but the general Windows experience (some hangs/crashes/reboots) without legacy support seems adequate.