Qualcomm says current thin and light laptops aren’t good enough. They take too long to start up, their batteries run out too fast and they’re not connected.
And, naturally, it has the answer: a Qualcomm chip instead of an Intel or AMD processor.
These have been available for a while, with the Snapdragon 835 then the 850. Only a few manufacturers have jumped on board so far, but they include some major names like Samsung, Lenovo, Huawei, and HP. You can read our
Samsung Galaxy Book 2 review to find out more about the 850.
Late last year Qualcomm announced a brand new Snapdragon for laptops, the Snapdragon 8cx, and at Computex 2019 the company has now revealed a little more about what to expect from the chip. This isn’t just a smartphone chip that has been tweaked for use in laptops, it’s designed specifically for the task.
The company says this is the best yet, and that the x stands for ‘extreme’. To this end it offers better performance, better battery life and, importantly, built-in 5G support.
And like the 855, the 8cx is a 7nm chip. This refers to the manufacturing process used, and the smaller number the better. Intel doesn’t have a 7nm mobile chip yet, and that’s one reason why Qualcomm is bullish about the potential for the 8cx.
When is the Snapdragon 8cx release date?
Laptops with the 8cx will hopefully be available later in 2019, though for 5G models there may be a wait until 2020 – as of yet no exact date has been announced.
What laptops have been announced?
Lenovo is the first company to jump in with official support for the 8cx – no surprise, since it’s made devices for both previous Windows on Snapdragon chips.
While the company hasn’t revealed a specific 8cx laptop, at Computex 2019 it did unveil a concept device dubbed ‘Project Limitless’ to illustrate what the first 5G laptops might look like. It includes not only the 8cx chip but also Qualcomm’s X55 5G modem and the X24 LTE modem for when 5G connections aren’t available. Lenovo says that retail devices should be available from 2020, but we’re still a way off from knowing specific models, specs, and prices.
Is this the successor to the 850?
Yes, but it doesn’t replace the 850. It will be a higher-performance alternative. But it will remain fanless, so your laptop won’t become noisy and distracting when you push it hard.
How fast is the Snapdragon 8cx?
Qualcomm has always been cautious of discussing synthetic benchmarks for its PC chips – perhaps in part to avoid negative comparisons with faster Intel products. Its telling, then, that for the first time it is offering more direct comparisons, boasting that the 8cx is 2x faster than a ‘competitor 15W solution’ (that’s probably code for a Core i5) when running at the lower power drain of 7W.
It also showed press a side-by-side video of an 8cx device up against a Core i5 rival running through a variety of multitasking, in which the 8cx actually ran faster across a few minutes of use – in part thanks to better heat management reducing the need for processor throttling.
Of course, Qualcomm’s always going to talk the chips up, and we won’t know how much power the 8cx really delivers until we can get our hands on one ourselves.
What about battery life?
The company was quick to assure us that the extra performance doesn’t come at the expense of battery life, claiming that the Adreno 680 is 60% more efficient than the GPU in the Snapdragon 850. Qualcomm says you should be able to get more than 25 hours of ‘premium computing’ from 8cx devices, with multi-day battery life based on typical usage.
Snapdragon 8cx features and specs
The main component of the 8cx system-on-chip is the Kryo 495 CPU. This is an octo-core processor which Qualcomm likens to the performance of a 15W Intel Core i5 U-series. Except that it uses half the power.
And compared to Intel’s equivalent 7W Y-series processors, the Snapdragon 8cx is said to be 50% faster. But as we said, no actual benchmark figures were given.
It supports all the hardware you’d expect such as NVMe SSDs and LPDDR4x 128-bit memory. That’s important because it means you won’t be limited to 4GB of RAM as you are in the Galaxy Book 2: the 8cx will support up to 16GB.
The Adreno 680 graphics chip supports DX12 and has VP9 ad H.265 decoders, so you can watch HDR video without draining the battery because no software is needed to play such video.
4G & 5G
Unlike Intel chips, the Snapdragon 8cx has a built-in LTE modem. That means any laptops which use the Snapdragon 8cx should have a SIM slot as standard and allow you to connect to the internet just about anywhere without needing any extra hardware, or using your phone as a Wi-Fi hotspot.
There will also be support for 5G, delivering much faster data speeds, but it’s not yet clear if every 8cx device will include 5G, or – more likely – if there will also be separate 4G models.
Other features on offer include support for:
- USB 3
- Dual 4K HDR monitors (up from one with the Snapdragon 850)
- Quick Charge 4+
- aptX HD wireless audio
- Amazon Alexa and Microsoft Cortana
One of the biggest challenges is to get developers to optimise their apps for an ARM processor. Qualcomm says all the apps you need are available, including Office, Dropbox, Spotify, VLC, Netflix, Pandora, Hulu, Vudu, Minecraft, Asphalt 9 Legends and more.
It pointed out that Chrome and Firefox now support ARM64 natively and that there’s also support for Windows 10 Enterprise, which should make 8cx-based laptops appeal more to business buyers. The company is also working with VPN and anti-virus vendors including McAfee to help deliver security support for enterprise users in particular.