On the final day of the Snapdragon Summit in Hawaii, we spent some time with the Snapdragon G3x Handheld Gaming Developer Kit (gaming device), the first device running on the Snapdragon G3x Gen 1 platform. The developer kit was launched in partnership with Razer, which has a thriving developer community.
Let’s talk about the G3x Gen 1 platform. It is a new gaming hardware platform architecturally close to today’s smartphones and supported by Snapdragon Game Studios. It aims to leverage the best connectivity Qualcomm has (5G, WiFi 6E, etc.) with potentially significant differences in how the technology is physically packaged and how I think it can scale in the future.
The physical device differences between the Developer Kit and smartphones are based on specific game ergonomics like advanced haptics and, more importantly, system cooling potential.
Fundamentally, smartphones absolutely need to be thin & light at the expense of cooling capabilities and sustained performance. Essentially, Snapdragon G3x maximizes the silicon’s potential with better thermals and possibly higher power.
All phone designs stack three heat-generating components onto each other: the display, the processor, and the battery. There’s very little space left for heat-dissipation hardware such as heatsinks, let alone fans."SNAPDRAGON G3X GEN 1 MAXIMIZES THE SILICON'S POTENTIAL"
On the contrary, a gaming handheld like this developer kit allows much more freedom on all fronts, and it’s large enough to have a very potent cooling, larger batteries, and space between components. OEMs don’t have to follow the G3 design, so we expect to see many variants.
From a software point of view, the G3x platform runs on Android. The existing software is compatible, and most game developers have nothing to do as their games should run out of the box.
There are opportunities to push sustained performance higher, and game developers might add higher graphics options or better support for physical controls. Today, touch controls can be remapped to physical controls automatically or quickly, so G3x would come out of the gate with a huge game library."A HUGE GAME LIBRARY"
Additionally, the handset can game stream from PCs, consoles, or cloud gaming services, just like phones and other client devices. That’s where advanced connectivity makes a big difference in terms of latency, for example.
The question is, “who wants this?” For now, it’s for gamers who want to play “on the go” without compromise. We don’t yet know how many units this could represent because it’s a new market. It’s fair to speculate that the gaming market size should allow for a nascent niche market like G3x to exist.
Every year, 1.4 Billion mobiles are sold (2020 numbers), and looking back, it took ten years for Sony to sell 102 Million PS1 consoles, which was considered a smashing business success.
The Nintendo DS sold 20M units over its lifetime and is considered a legendary success. More recently, Nintendo has sold 93M Nintendo Switch thus far. A platform like G3x could be highly successful even though very small compared to the overall phone market. Note that console makers don’t make money on the hardware but the games’ distribution, but that’s another analysis.
The G3x Gen 1 Developer Kit’s internal specs remained undisclosed. Eyeballing the game demos’ frame rates, it doesn’t seem to run the highest-end smartphone CPU/GPU combo, perhaps a Snapdragon 7xx equivalent. That’s how it feels. It doesn’t matter, as this prototype is meant for developers to gauge the ergonomics and potential of the system. Qualcomm and Razer say that the feedback has been extremely positive thus far.
Following the Snapdragon naming convention, we can imagine that a G8x platform will someday be powered by a dedicated “gaming” chip much more potent than high-end smartphones. The G3x naming could indicate that we’re looking at entry-level performance in the Snapdragon G platform.
Technically, Qualcomm could scale CPU and GPU cores to match peculiar gaming workloads. Every game console is designed that way, as game execution is typically overweight on GPU and bandwidth. The CPU acts as an orchestrator, and co-processors like Hexagon or even the ISP could offer huge game benefits if accessible to developers."SCALE CPU AND GPU CORES TO MATCH PECULIAR GAMING WORKLOADS"
Any performance comparison with current smartphones is irrelevant until G3x consumer devices are near launching. We’re still at the proof-of-concept phase here.
Many will see the Snapdragon G3 device as a Nintendo Switch competitor, but looking at the horizon shows a much broader picture. If you agree with the premise that Snapdragon G chips could (and I predict, will) scale CPU/GPU differently from smartphones to match gaming workloads, so Snapdragon G is not even limited to “handheld gaming.”
There’s no reason why Qualcomm couldn’t build an Android-powered PS/Xbox competitor in the future, perhaps backed by Google, Samsung, and many other OEMs. From a computational point of view, look at how Apple’s M1 scaled to the M1 Max very quickly.
The Snapdragon C8x’s (now on its 3rd generation) evolution is a pertinent example of how the Snapdragon phone architecture is adapted to productivity laptops’ needs and workloads with increasing success.
Snapdragon G could help Android succeed as a “box” where Android TV had mixed results. It’s too early to foresee how Qualcomm’s entry into the “dedicated gaming hardware” business will turn out. For now, there’s a clear opening in no-compromise mobile gaming from which Qualcomm can enter, establish a foothold, and expand.
Broader success depends on the synergy between hardware, game development, and game distribution, requiring many iterations and adaptation. A sizeable number of today’s AAA games are created by console makers such as Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo, and they will leverage these sticky titles to retain customers. Others like Epic will embrace a multi-platform approach.
Finally, the price of Snapdragon G devices will play a huge role in adoption. We’ll have to wait for the first consumer devices before assigning a value metric.
To conclude, I don’t expect a substantial short-term impact on the gaming market in the next couple of years, but we might be looking back to this day as an inflection point in gaming hardware over the next decade. The introduction of the Snapdragon G3x Gen 1 may someday be compared to Sony’s, then Microsoft’s entry in the console business at their respective times.
There’s no consumer product for now, but developers can apply for units via developer.razer.com