Tech

Qualcomm’s latest premium laptop processor is here


Qualcomm has long been the market leader when it comes to flagship smartphone processors, but the US company is still only beginning to establish itself when it comes to PCs – though no doubt hopes that the new Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3 will cement its position in the market.

Since first announcing its intention to power Windows 10 machines back in 2017, Qualcomm has tirelessly promoted the benefits of its ARM-based CPUs. The company’s ‘always on, always connected’ vision for the future of portable PC has typically meant compromising slightly on performance, but Snapdragon chipsets are getting better all the time. 

However, the personal computer market is proving a tough nut to crack. Intel has led the way for many years in this area, while AMD is fast proving it’s a force to be reckoned with. Qualcomm is also far from the only company to be developing Arm-based chips for PCs, with Apple and its M1 chip expected to be joined by AMD, Microsoft and even Samsung in the relatively near future. 

The new Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3 offers more power than ever before without compromising on the strong battery life and 5G connectivity that made the 8cx Gen 2 a success – and it’s the first ever 5nm Windows laptop chip.

Here’s everything you need to know about its next laptop CPU, which we assume will be known as the Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3.

When will Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3 laptops be released?

Qualcomm revealed the 8cx Gen 3 at its Tech Summit on 1 December, but it’ll be a little while before we see the first hardware using the new laptop chip.

The company has only promised that the first laptops should launch in the first half of 2022, though senior director of product management Miguel Nunes did tell Tech Advisor that manufacturers should start announcing devices “very soon,” and “probably” at CES 2022 in January.

Qualcomm revealed the 8cx Gen 3 alongside the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 smartphone chip and a new gaming platform called the Snapdragon G3x Gen 1. It also launched a new, less powerful 7c+ Gen 3 laptop chip, which could make ARM-based Windows 11 PCs more affordable.

What laptops will use the Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3?

No laptop manufacturers made specific device announcements at the 8cx Gen 3 launch event, but we do have a fairly good idea of the PC manufacturers Qualcomm usually works with. These would be the most likely candidates when it comes to future Snapdragon chips.

Acer’s Spin 7 was announced alongside the 8cx Gen 2 back in September, while Samsung’s Galaxy Book S is one of the most high-profile Snapdragon-powered PCs. Lenovo’s Yoga 5G was the first 5G laptop thanks to the Snapdragon 8cx Gen 2, while Microsoft’s Surface Pro X has used a custom ARM-based CPU across two generations of 2-in-1.

We’d expect these four manufacturers to work to use Qualcomm’s next chipset in some capacity, although there may be many more as Windows on Snapdragon continues to grow in popularity. 

What are the Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3 specs?

Qualcomm has touted some impressive performance figures in the 8cx Gen 3, which it says offers a significant performance jump over the previous gen. Let’s break it down.

CPU & GPU

As always, the 8cx Gen 3 incorporates Qualcomm’s Kryo CPU and Adreno GPU tech. Unusually, the latest versions of these chips don’t come with their own model numbers, but we still know a little about what they each offer.

The Kryo CPU is structured with a prime core, a few performance cores, and four efficiency cores, with faster clock speeds across every core – the new efficiency cores are actually clocked at the same speed as the last gen’s performance cores.

Qualcomm says you can expect a huge 85% year-on-year improvement in multi-threaded performance, with an almost as impressive 40% jump in single-core tasks.

The Adreno GPU has also been overhauled, with 60% better performance than last year. Thanks to support for 120Hz displays, it can even drive games at up to 120fps, with Qualcomm claiming it can hit those frame rates as long as you stick to Full HD – though it’s not clear on which games that’s been achieved.

We haven’t had the chance to benchmark the chip ourselves, so it’s too soon to say how it compares to rivals from Intel, AMD, or even Apple – but Qualcomm certainly seems to be closing the gap.

Battery life

You might worry that those power upgrades would come at the cost of the excellent battery life that Snapdragon laptops have been known for.

Fortunately Qualcomm says that thanks to some delicate tuning it’s managed to keep battery performance consistent even with the extra power – predicting 25+ hours of performance depending on the device.

Networking

Naturally, you get 5G support once again.

Qualcomm has actually decided to offer support for three different modems from its line-up: the X65, X55, and X62. That means individual manufacturers can decide which modem to use in order to hit specific price points or better suit the spectrum availability in specific countries.

There’s also support for Wi-Fi up to the latest 6E standard, though you’ll find Bluetooth 5.1 rather than the absolute latest 5.3 tech.

AI

One area Qualcomm may have an edge over some of its rivals in the PC space is its experience with machine learning on the smartphone side.

The new AI engine in this chip delivers 29+ TOPS of machine learning power, which can drive applications across the PC, from watching video to noise cancelling during Zoom calls.

Most importantly, with the dedicated AI processing power much of this work can be done without using the CPU or GPU, so they’re still fully available for whatever other demanding applications you need to run.

Camera

Qualcomm has plenty of experience with cameras from its phone chips, and it’s trying to bring some of that to bear here too.

The 8cx Gen 3 can support cameras at up to 24Mp, and can capture 4K HDR video at up to 30fps – unlocking the potential for significantly better looking Zoom calls.

Interestingly, it also supports up to four cameras concurrently – it’s not clear yet why a laptop might need four cameras on it, but it’ll be interesting to see the applications that manufacturers come up with.

Will ARM processors become the new standard for laptops? We investigate.


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