On Wednesday, Qualcomm announced the impending arrival of its Snapdragon X Plus laptop processor alongside more information for its previously announced Snapdragon X Elite chips. While this is not the first time we’ve seen Qualcomm processors in a laptop, it’s the first time the company could have a chip that rivals Apple, Intel, and AMD on speed.

The Snapdragon X Plus is Qualcomm’s entry-level laptop chip. It has 10 cores, 42MB of cache, a maximum multithreaded frequency of 3.4GHz, and an NPU with 45 tera operations per second (TOPS, or how many mathematical calculations it can solve in a second) to assist with fancy-smancy generative AI applications. But keep in mind, TOPS is an arbitrary measurement that can sound more impressive than it is because it doesn’t necessarily take into account the type or quality of those calculations.

The Snapdragon X Plus also supports LPDDR5x memory at a maximum transfer rate of 8448 MT/s and has a 3.8 teraflop (TFLOP) integrated Adreno GPU. (TFLOP is also a mathematical measurement; it’s shorthand for how many trillion floating-point operations it can calculate per second. It’s also an arbitrary measurement, but it sure sounds impressive!)

The chipmaker is also releasing three twelve-core Snapdragon X Elite processors with up to a maximum multithreaded frequency of 3.8GHz and up to a 4.6 TFLOP iGPU. All three have the same NPU and support the same memory at the same speed as the Snapdragon X Plus. The top two SKUs have what Qualcomm calls Dual-Core Boost, up to 4.2GHz, which sounds a bit like Intel’s Turbo Boost or AMD’s Turbo Core. Those features dynamically adjust the processor frequency, delivering more power to the processor only when it needs it.

A table with multiple rows and columns with data.

All the new Snapdragon processors.

Image: Qualcomm

What stands out the most about these Arm processors is that they do not have a hybrid architecture like Apple Silicon and Intel’s chips, which divide up their total number of cores into performance-dedicated and efficiency-dedicated cores. Both companies have touted this architecture as a great way to reduce power consumption and increase battery life, and it is. But Qualcomm says all of its Snapdragon cores are “performance cores,” and it claims they still beat Apple, Intel, and AMD on performance, power efficiency, and battery life — and that PC games should “just work” with Windows on Arm, even via emulation. 

I was able to get some hands-on time with both the Snapdragon X Plus and Elite, running benchmarks and playing games. This was a highly controlled hands-on demo spread across several prototype (reference) laptops, and the programs available to “test” the new chips were chosen by Qualcomm, so I wasn’t convinced these Snapdragons will be more powerful in practice than what the other chipmakers offer, and I won’t be one way or the other until I get my hands on a finished product.

But hot damn, they seemed competitive. If I were an Intel Ultra Core, Apple M3, or AMD Ryzen 8000 series, I’d be worried. From the numbers I saw at the demo event, the  Snapdragon X Plus and Elite couldn’t beat the Apple M3 in single-core processing on either Geekbench 6 or Cinebench 2024, but they could in multicore. It was too close to call when I compared them to Intel’s Core Ultra 9 185H and AMD’s Ryzen 9 8945HS chip in either benchmark: single and multicore.

The only game I was able to try on a Snapdragon X Elite processor was Control, but I was impressed with how smooth it ran and how responsive it was via emulation. The graphics settings were not maxed out to the gills, but since I was playing with a controller and the frame rate averaged 30fps, it was running like a highly optimized console game should.

I briefly mentioned this during a recent Vergecast, but I don’t think their alleged ability to run generative AI programs faster than Intel or any other AI chip will be the Snapdragon X Series chips’ claim to fame. Apple has proven that sticking an Arm-based SoC into a laptop can drastically increase battery life, decrease power consumption, and run a lot cooler than Intel’s and AMD’s x86 processors. But Windows laptops have all the weird and funky form factors that would directly benefit from a chip that competes with Apple Silicon on power, performance, and thermals. Their greater potential is taking the innovative sprouts of dual-screen and foldable laptops and helping them grow them into a giant beanstalk of an ecosystem. Microsoft has so far struggled to make any compelling Windows Arm laptop.

Maybe this time, they’ll pull it off.

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