On the second Snapdragon Summit day in Hawaii, Qualcomm launched a couple of new hardware platforms for PCs, the Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3 and the Snapdragon 7cx+. The 8cx Gen 3 is the leading edge of the whole “c” series, and if you don’t already know, x stands for “eXtreme.”
Photos credit: Eliane Fiolet, co-founder, Ubergizmo.
The Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3 has architectural similarities with the newly announced Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 smartphone chip. However, its scale and thermal requirements are drastically different since it runs on a laptop form factor.
In the past few years, Qualcomm has steadily received more traction with its “always connected” PC platforms, especially since Microsoft keeps improving Windows for ARM and more software vendors such as Adobe are providing optimized apps for the 8c/7c chips.
As an “always-on, always-connected” platform, the new Snapdragon 8cx gets an impeccable WI-FI 6E and Bluetooth, along with excellent 5G broadband options with the Qualcomm X55, X62, or X65 5G modems.
The different modem options match various 5G availability and price points in specific countries or market segments. As a reminder, the X55 modem powers phones such as the USA version of the Galaxy S21. The X65 is leading Qualcomm’s 5G modems line up, with support for all global 5G networks and dual mmWave and sub-6 bands simultaneous utilization.
But I don’t think anyone was worried about Qualcomm’s connectivity performance, so the next topic is computing performance. On that front, Qualcomm’s updated Snapdragon 8cx architecture and a new 5nm manufacturing process is a one-two performance punch to the competition.
According to Qualcomm, the Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3 yields 85% better CPU and 60% faster graphics than the 8cx Gen 2. That’s very impressive progress you don’t often see in the PC world.
The Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3’s AI processor also got a vast 3X performance boost. Qualcomm uses it for many things such as noise-cancellation, face recognition, and other things related to user experience and security. The AI unit is used at the system/drivers level rather than being directly accessible by apps.
The integrated Image Signal Processor (ISP) has no equivalent in the PC world and can simultaneously manage up to four high-resolution cameras. That’s an area where OEMs using Qualcomm’s platform can differentiate from their X86 counterparts because the demand for high-quality video has skyrocketed.
Up until this day, the laptop webcam situation is pretty desperate, and even mid-range selfie cameras are noticeably better.
Qualcomm started the ARM revolution on windows laptops in many ways, and today even Intel has adopted ARM’s BIG.little mantra by using a heterogeneous CPU cluster. Since the original Snapdragon 8cx was launched, Apple successfully entered ARM laptop with its formidable M1 processor series.
We haven’t run any benchmarks yet, but I suspect that always-on connectivity and ultra-long battery life remain the main value-proposition of the Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3. The extra performance will be highly appreciated, and it will be interesting to see where the new platforms are relative to competitors.
Qualcomm says it is significantly faster and more power-efficient than Intel but didn’t say which Intel platform it is comparing itself to.
We can certainly believe the power-efficiency claim because Intel has yet to launch its new Core 12th generation processors in laptops. We have recently reviewed the Desktop Intel Core Gen 12 CPU, and Intel made a remarkable performance comeback with a good potential for greater efficiency. Can Intel beat Qualcomm’s power efficiency? Perhaps not, but I expect things to look much better for Intel on that front.
As of late, we’ve also reviewed ultra-light computers with very long battery life, such as the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 nano, but none would get “multi-day” battery life like Qualcomm says it has, nor equivalent broadband connectivity.
Another thing to take into consideration is the value-proposition of Snapdragon laptops. Suppose you use metrics such as build quality, battery endurance, and productivity for the price. In that case, a laptop design such as the $999 Samsung Galaxy Book S offers great value and user experience.
For all the talk about “absolute performance,” sheer speed isn’t the end-game for millions of users who use Windows computers for communications, “office work,” and casual gaming. That’s what the current (niche) market for an always-on laptop is, and the Snapdragon 8cx is tailored to deliver. Find your audience and make them VERY happy. Grow from there.
In my opinion, the relative lack of native ARM software remains the primary point of friction for the Snapdragon compute platform, and it’s really up to Microsoft and software developers to make ARM-native apps first-class citizens.
In the meantime, X86 compatibility exists with Snapdragon laptops, but some users are reluctant to use any “CPU translation” mechanism that might remotely hurt performance, even so slightly. Anyhow, Qualcomm needs to reassure potential users about this constantly.
Secondly, the cost of 5G data plans has to be considered. Depending on one’s situation, it may be included in people’s existing plans or might become an additional monthly cost. The value of Snapdragon laptops heavily relies on their world-class connectivity.
In the end, the new Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3 is an objectively formidable technological update, but its place within a larger PC ecosystem is subject to factors that Qualcomm doesn’t entirely control. At the Snapdragon Summit, Microsoft seemed upbeat with Windows for ARM, and they should because there’s pressure from ARM-based hardware on Chrome OS and Mac.