Qualcomm has lofty dreams of making PC chips that will rival Apple’s M-series processors by 2023, but in the meantime, the company is introducing its latest ARM-based laptop chips: the Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3 and Snapdragon 7c+.
Designed to support Windows laptops and Chromebooks, Qualcomm says the Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3 should help pave the way for even more portable and long-lasting ARM-based PCs. Compared to its predecessors, the Snapdragon 8cx promises to be more power-efficient, providing up to 25 hours or more of battery life depending on the system, while also delivering 85% faster CPU performance and 60% faster graphics than last year’s chip.
The Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3's biggest advantage may be its connectivity: The new chip supports a range of 5G modems, including Qualcomm’s X65 5G modem, which can deliver cellular data speeds of up to 10 Gbps, or wifi speeds of up to 3.6 Gbps with support for Wi-Fi 6E.
With the increasing importance of AI and machine learning performance, Qualcomm has also included its new AI Engine, which the company says will deliver more than 29 TOPS of performance (three times more than before), while also allowing the system to better offload AI-based tasks from the main CPU to the AI Engine. Qualcomm also aims to support Windows 11-based systems, so the Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3 includes support for Microsoft’s Pluton TPM architecture, which is able to run on the chip’s dedicated SPU (secure processing unit).
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Camera quality is generally less of a concern on a laptop than it is on a smartphone, but the Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3 also supports HDR video capture at up to 4K, while features like high-fidelity audio and AI-powered echo cancellation help deliver crisp audio during video calls.
The Snapdragon 7c+, intended for use in less powerful budget systems, offers up to 60% faster CPU performance and 70% better graphics compared to Qualcomm’s previous entry-level laptop chip, and also supports 5G connectivity, but with slightly slower max speeds that top out at just 3.7 Gbps.
Qualcomm’s upcoming PC chips should deliver some notable performance and connectivity boosts compared to last year’s chips, but the Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3 and 7c+ aren’t expected to feature new architecture from up-start chip designer Nuvia, which Qualcomm acquired earlier this year for $1.4 billion to help create next-gen PC chips.
This means that instead of the huge jump in performance and battery life Apple’s MacBooks enjoyed when the company switched over to its in-house M-series CPUs, Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon 8Cx and 7C+ chips are more like iterative upgrades on the PC silicon Qualcomm has been trotting out for the past few years.
But perhaps the bigger issue for Windows on Snapdragon PCs is that with Microsoft still struggling to support a number of legacy Windows apps on systems with ARM-based chips, it’s unclear how much of a performance tax Qualcomm’s new chips will suffer when running Windows 10 or 11.
If all you need is a speedy but still energy-efficient chip for getting work done on the go, Qualcomm’s new PC chips appear to be a pretty straightforward upgrade. The company expects new devices featuring the Snapdragon 8cx and Snapdragon 7c+ to go on sale sometime in the first half of 2022.