Home PC Mag Qualcomm's 8cx Enables Faster Snapdragon Laptops

Qualcomm's 8cx Enables Faster Snapdragon Laptops

Qualcomm's 8cx Enables Faster Snapdragon Laptops
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With its new Snapdragon 8cx computing platform, unveiled on Thursday, chip maker Qualcomm is doubling down on its quest to rival Intel as a go-to provider of the processors and wireless technologies that power ultraportable laptops.

The Snapdragon 8cx combines a CPU, GPU, and radios for Wi-Fi and LTE connectivity onto a single chip, a design known in the industry as “system-on-a-chip,” or SoC. It’s faster and more power-efficient than the Snapdragon 835 and 850, but it still requires specialized versions of the Windows operating system, apps, and other software.

This limitation hampered adoption of laptops based on the Snapdragon 835, which was announced in December 2017 and only found its way into two consumer laptops during the six months it was available. One, the Asus NovaGo, suffered from so many problems related to specialized software that it was nearly unusable for basic computing tasks when PCMag tested it earlier this year.

Qualcomm Snapdragon 8cx

The newer Snapdragon 850 is marginally faster but to date is still only available in three devices, including the Samsung Galaxy Book2 Windows tablet. Instead of replacing the Snapdragon 850, the new and likely more expensive Snapdragon 8cx will be available alongside it, enabling PC makers to offer both premium and entry-level, Snapdragon-based Windows devices.

The Snapdragon 8cx’s GPU, which handles graphics processing tasks like games, is an Adreno 680. Qualcomm said it is 3.5 times faster than the GPU used in the Snapdragon 835, and twice as fast as the one in the Snapdragon 850.

The SoC’s CPU, a Kryo 495, handles most other processing tasks. Qualcomm offered few details except to say that it is the company’s fastest CPU yet and that it is built on a 7-nanometer production process. This cutting-edge process has so far eluded Intel, which mostly sells CPUs that are made on the less efficient 10-nanometer process.

Playing Catch-Up

But chips from Intel (and AMD) have the advantage of decades of optimization from Microsoft and other software developers. Many of these developers are scrambling to optimize their apps for Snapdragon-based PCs at Qualcomm’s urging—Mozilla’s Firefox web browser is the latest mainstream app to run natively, Qualcomm announced on Thursday. Apps that aren’t optimized can still run, but the sluggishness of the software emulation makes using them frustrating compared with how they run on an Intel-based machine.

With spotty software support, Snapdragon’s main advantages are long battery life, silent operation because it needs no cooling fan, and superfast LTE connectivity. The 8cx, for instance, features Qualcomm’s X24 LTE modem that promises multi-gigabit speeds. But Intel now also offers its own super-efficient, fanless Y-series processors and gigabit modems, available in brand-new laptops such as the HP Spectre Folio.

The result is that consumers aren’t champing at the bit to buy Snapdragon-based laptops. With just five such devices on offer amidst the dozens of ultraportable laptops and tablets available with Intel and AMD CPUs, Qualcomm is now turning to corporate IT departments to boost the appeal. The Snapdragon 8cx will support enterprise security and manageability solutions from Symantec and Microsoft, Qualcomm announced on Thursday.

Ultimately, the Snapdragon 8cx lets laptop makers create “a real PC that can do multitasking and productivity,” Qualcomm product manager Miguel Nunes said at the Snapdragon 8cx’s launch in Hawaii. That’s certainly not a breakthrough, but assuming the software issues are eventually ironed out, the addition of the 8cx means that Qualcomm’s customers will at least have twice the Snapdragon silicon to work with.

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