While yesterday was all about Snapdragon 855, and the enhancements it will bring to mobile devices, Qualcomm’s focus today at their Snapdragon Tech Summit was all about the “Always on, Always connected” (AOAC) PC.
Announced almost exactly a year ago, AOAC is the term that Qualcomm uses to brand Snapdragon devices featuring the Windows operating system.
In the past year, Qualcomm has shipped PCs based on both the Snapdragon 835 and well as the PC-only Snapdragon 850 SoCs.
Today, Qualcomm is taking the wraps off of their higher-performance Snapdragon option for PCs, Snapdragon 8cx.
From the start, Qualcomm assures us that Snapdragon 8cx won’t be completely replacing Snapdragon 850 in the marketplace, pointing to it being a more upmarket solution.
Unlike the Prime Core design on the Snapdragon 855, the 8cx platform is sticking with a more traditional BIG.little design with four performance and four efficiency cores. However, we do see larger cache sizes than previous Snapdragons, with a total of 10MB system cache.
Qualcomm did make a few performance claims against Intel's notebook parts, but they are a bit confusing.
While they did compare the Snapdragon 8cx to Intel's mainstream 15W U-series quad-core mobile CPUs, the performance numbers Qualcomm showed were for both CPUs running at 7W.
Qualcomm says this is because of the thermal constraints of a fanless design, of which all the Snapdragon PCs are, but looking at the thermal performance of real-world fanless PCs with Intel U-series processors like the Surface Pro 6 with a Core-i5, 7W seems to be a lower power level than that PC ever actually sees.
As always, only time and independent performance analysis will tell the true competitive nature of these CPUs.
Also all-new for Snapdragon 8cx is the Adreno 680 GPU, what Qualcomm is touting as their fastest GPU ever with a 2x performance improvement and 60% greater power efficiency over Snapdragon 850.
On the connectivity side, Adreno 680 will provide desktop-level outputs, including support for up to two simultaneous 4K HDR displays.
Despite the significant performance increases on the GPU side, Qualcomm is claiming that the Adreno 680 GPU in Snapdragon 8cx is 60% more efficient than the Adreno GPU in their current lead PC platform, Snapdragon 850.
Snapdragon 8cx will sport the same X24 modem we saw announced alongside the Snapdragon 855 yesterday.
This new modem will enable both LTE connections up to 2Gbps as we saw with Snapdragon 855, but judging from the specification sheet that was provided, 8cx seems to lack the ability for Wifi-6 (802.11ax) and 802.11ay.
In addition, Qualcomm also teased that 5G-enabled 8cx devices (likely with the Snapdragon x50 modem) will also be coming in 2019.
One of the most significant downsides for the current generation of Snapdragon-powered PCs has been the carryover of UFS storage from the mobile phone side. While UFS can provide a sufficient experience on Android devices, it became a significant bottleneck on Windows-based devices.
Thanks to an available four lanes of PCI Express 3.0 connectivity, the Snapdragon 8cx will provide support for NVMe SSDs. While Qualcomm still hasn’t implemented a native NVMe controller into their SSD like Apple, this will at least enable the option for faster storage coming from OEMs.
However, it remains to be seen how many OEMs adopt NVMe SSDs in their Snapdragon 8cx products, due to the added cost, and potential thermal issues with higher performance, PCIe SSD in a fan-less form factor.
Another pain point for Snapdragon PCs has been software support. While the initial Windows on Snapdragon releases were able to run native ARM 32bit applications as well as emulate 32bit x86 applications, software support has come a long way for this platform in the past year.
One of the biggest areas of concern has been native browser support. Currently, the only native ARM browser on Windows is Edge. With Microsoft's announced move of Edge to the Chromium rendering system, we will now gain an implementation of the open source engine that power Google Chrome, but not the Chrome browser itself yet.
Mozilla however, is set to ship a native ARM64 version of Firefox in the coming months, which will be the first high-performance answer to Edge for the Windows on Snapdragon platform.
Microsoft was also on stage today discussing how they are bringing Windows 10 Enterprise to Snapdragon devices, allowing for more wide deployments of these machines in large corporations.
Pricing and Availability
Despite bringing Lenovo on stage at the event to talk about their partnership with Qualcomm, no actual devices or even manufactures of 8cx devices were officially announced today.
Due to that, we have no real information on pricing or availability on Snapdragon 8cx-powered systems besides that they are coming in 2019, at some point.
That being said since Snapdragon 850 is still sticking around as an option in the marketplace, expect Snapdragon 8cx devices to be more expensive than the current crop of Snapdragon-enabled PCs.
We expect more information to come on Snapdragon 8cx in the coming months at CES and MWC, so stay tuned for more information as it becomes available!