Qualcomm follows its weak computing chip with even weaker computing chips

Qualcomm has been making an effort to break through into the computing space, powering recent Windows devices like the Microsoft Surface Pro X with its Snapdragon 8cx chipset. But, it’s just getting started. 

At its Snapdragon Tech Summit in Hawaii, Qualcomm announced two followups to the 8cx, the 7c and the 8c. In essence, these new SoCs (System on a Chip) are meant to tackle the entry- and mid-range of the laptop space, respectively. With these chips, Qualcomm is claiming that it can not only take the lead in battery life and connectivity, but also in raw performance. 

The Qualcomm 8cx is already the first 7nm processor to make it into a mainstream device, beating AMD to the punch – at least when it comes to laptops. The 7c and 8c, then, will finish out its mobile computing lineup, both bringing 7nm silicon to more affordable devices. Qualcomm is claiming that the 7c and 8c will outperform comparable chips from ‘competitors’ by as much as 25%, but we’ll definitely have to wait and see on that front. 

We’re not sure just how affordable prices will be for laptops and Windows tablets sporting these processors, but if the Surface Pro X is anything to go by, we wouldn’t get our hopes up that Qualcomm’s next chipsets will out-price Intel or AMD.

The big question, then, will be whether the move to 7nm silicon and always-connected PCs really matters to most people, and whether it’s going to be worth moving to an entirely new computing platform. 

But, probably not

ARM has a long way to go before it can really take over as the ruler of computing. In 2019, most programs are still designed to work on an x86 processor from Intel or AMD, with only Windows Store apps being able to really work. There are some exceptions, but they’re certainly rare. That concession would be worth it if there was something to gain when it comes to performance and battery life, but we’re skeptical.

When we reviewed the Microsoft Surface Pro X, hailed by Microsoft as the future of its Surface lineup, we were a bit disappointed by the performance of that device. Most of our benchmark tests couldn’t even be run on the device, and the one that could, GeekBench, showed the Snapdragon 8cx-powered Windows tablet falling behind the Surface Pro 6 – which is more than a year old. Even battery life, where Qualcomm is claiming these chipsets really shine, isn’t impressive on its marquee product, quitting out an hour before, again, the Surface Pro 6.

So, when Qualcomm says it’s providing 25% better performance versus comparable products from its competitors, we’re left wondering what, exactly, it’s comparing to. There’s room for a third player in the computing processor space – and in fact, we’d argue the processor market needs a third player – but this ain’t it, Qualcomm. 

At the end of the day, though, Qualcomm should be able to provide extremely thin and light laptops that are always connected and backed up by super long battery life– something no other CPU manufacturer can bring to the table. Oh, wait, Intel Project Athena is already doing that? Nevermind.

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