But in an interview with The Verge, Qualcomm’s senior gaming director Mithun Chandrasekhar says the chip could eventually power devices running other operating systems as well.
When Qualcomm launched the Snapdragon G3x Gen 1 processor a few years ago, it was basically a modified version of a Snapdragon 888 smartphone processor. But the new Snapdragon 3Gx Gen 2 is not designed for phones.
It delivers up to twice the graphics performance of its predecessor, up to 30% faster CPU performance, and has peak power consumption of around 15 to 18 watts, putting it in the same category as entry-level laptop processors or the custom AMD chip that powers Valve’s Steam Deck.
But Android is kind of a strange platform to target when launching a chip with that level of horsepower. Most Android games are designed for phones, so they run just fine on devices with lower-power, lower-performance chips. And streaming games over the internet or a local network doesn’t really require a high-performance GPU either.
One area where this sort of chip does come in handy is emulation: there are Android emulator apps that let you run everything from Game Boy to Nintendo Switch titles on Android. But while that’s a feature that Chinese companies like Anbernic, Powkiddy, and AYA might play up, emulation is sort of a legal grey area (the emulation apps may be legal, but where exactly are you getting your games from?) and it’s unlikely we’ll see Qualcomm acknowledge this use anytime soon.
But one area where we’re seeing a lot of growth in the mobile gaming space? Handhelds with x86 processors that either run Windows (which most PC games target) or Linux (which Valve has made into a viable gaming platform with its SteamOS operating system and Proton software that allows thousands of Windows games to run on Linux).
And it looks like Qualcomm may want to play in that same space. You can already find a handful of Windows laptops and tablets with Qualcomm processors, and it’s possible that we could eventually see gaming handhelds that pair Snapdragon G series processors with Windows or other operating systems… and Chandrasekhar emphasizes in his interview with The Verge that the company is experimenting with operating systems other than Android or Windows.
One of the things I’ve read in nearly every review of the Asus ROG Ally handheld gaming PC is that one of its key selling points is also one of its key weaknesses: it ships with Windows. That means that most PC games are supported out of the box without the need for any sort of compatibility layer. But it also means that the underlying operating system is designed for keyboard and mouse input rather than for small handheld devices with touchscreen displays and game controllers.
Chandrasekhar agrees that the Windows ecosystem isn’t really built for handheld game systems (at least not yet), and so the company is testing Proton-like software that could allow users to play Windows games on non-Windows (or Android) operating systems.
So it’s possible that we could see a Steam Deck rival in the next few years with a Linux-based operating system, support for Windows games, and an ARM processor rather than an x86 chip.
But it’s also possible that we won’t. It’s still early days for Qualcomm’s new handheld gaming plans, and it’s not like Intel and AMD are going to sit around and wait for Qualcomm to catch up. And while Qualcomm offers reference designs to hardware partners, even if the company does make competitive chips, it will still be up to device makers to decide whether to use them or stick with AMD (which seems to dominate the space at the moment).
By the way, if you want a closer look at Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon G3x Gen 2 handheld gaming reference design, I recommend checking out The Verge’s article, which has a number of real-world pictures of the device.