Now that we're video-chatting from wherever all the time, does that offer an opening for Snapdragon PCs?

computers & electronics, components

Qualcomm has announced its fifth-generation Windows laptop chipsets, and the Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3 and the 7c+ both significantly improve performance over earlier versions. But the biggest potential opportunity for Qualcomm isn’t in how the chips have changed. It’s in how the world has changed.

A work-from-anywhere world where people do their jobs from home, co-working spaces, or the park opens a space for manageable, slim laptops with great battery life and excellent cameras, Qualcomm CEO Cristiano Amon said at the company’s Snapdragon Summit. “If you have to use a workstation to do work, and you’re going to work in the office a few days and going to work in your home a few days, you can’t move the workstation around,” he said.

So the idea is that the work-from-home computer now is something that lets you log into corporate systems remotely, potentially secured by your business, with high-end audio and video capabilities for high-quality video conferences.

“The number-one application on the computer as we think about the future of work is communications,” Amon said.

computers & electronics, components

Qualcomm shows new laptops based on the 7c+ (left) and 8cx Gen 3 (right) chipsets.

And that opens up options for Qualcomm’s drive towards 5G laptops as well. Qualcomm’s connected laptops have completely failed in the consumer market, at least in the US, because wireless carriers have failed to offer service plans people find compelling.

So Qualcomm is turning to businesses, which may have massive multi-device contracts, may find that 4G and 5G are more reliable at workers’ homes than shaky home Wi-Fi, and probably want to be able to control their corporate laptops remotely. The “8cx Gen 3 platform provides the most robust visibility for device management,” said Miguel Nunes, senior director of product management at Qualcomm.


Zooming Through Zooms

The 8cx has 85% better CPU performance and 60% better GPU performance than the previous 8cx Gen 2, Nunes said, with an eight-core layout relying on four 5nm ARM Cortex-X1 primary cores running at 3GHz. The four smaller cores are Cortex-A78.

computers & electronics, components

The core layout of the new 8cx Gen 3.

That design is older than the new Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 for phones, though, which is using a 4nm Cortex-X2 primary core. “They’re Cortex-X1, but they’re tuned for compute workloads,” Nunes said. “Very different performance levels [than in a phone chipset.]”

Nunes chalked up the use of older processor cores to PC design cycles being longer than phone design cycles. That creates an interesting tension, though. Qualcomm may very well leapfrog ARM’s Cortex-X2 to use its own custom cores from Nuvia when it samples the Nuvia-based chipset in late 2022. “That’s a possibility,” Nunes teased.

Qualcomm talked less about the midrange 7c+, except to say it has 60% faster CPU performance and 70% faster GPU performance than the previous 7c. Both chips have 5G and improved Wi-Fi capabilities, including Wi-Fi 6E.

Cameras are relevant in the new world; the chipset supports up to four of them, with up to 24 megapixels of resolution.

The 8cx has AI-enhanced echo cancellation and noise suppression on its microphones, much as we saw yesterday with the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1, which silences noise from pets and babies in the background of your WFH calls. The AI unit also does on-device face detection and audio translation for conference calls across teams that use multiple languages, Nunes said.


But Will They Sell?

computers & electronics, components

There’s been four generations of Snapdragon laptops, but they haven’t made much of an impact on the market.

Qualcomm-powered laptops have lurked around the edges of the market for years, but haven’t sold well. Wireless carriers haven’t marketed or supported the 4G/5G laptops consistently, and our reviews have positioned them as underpowered and overpriced.

T-Mobile’s VP of product engineering, Ryan Sullivan, said his carrier would be going in more aggressively on 5G-connected laptops over the next year.

“We’re not only investing to put these into our retail channels, but we’re working with the PC manufacturers out there to do away with Wi-Fi-only laptops eventually,” he said. “Let’s make sure that either our [service plan] file is already there and available to the customer can add it or, better yet, make sure it’s resident on the device, notify the customer, and give them a killer offer on service.”

Lenovo, for one, said it’s highly committed to Qualcomm’s platform. “I can’t wait to see [Qualcomm chips] running in Lenovo and Motorola devices,” Lenovo CEO Yang Yuanqing said via video at the event.

We criticized Lenovo’s 8cx-based Flex 5G for having a “whopper of a price tag” in our review. Nunes said laptops based on the 8cx Gen 3 chipset could be lower-priced than previous models. “You will see a lot more variety of price points in our platforms … and I think you will see competitively priced devices.”

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