Oct 24, 2023 - Technology

New Qualcomm chip looks to break Intel's PC dominance

Image: Qualcomm

Qualcomm on Tuesday unveiled a processor it says outpaces the fastest laptop chips from Apple and Intel, giving the company the opportunity to grab a far more significant share of the PC market.

Why it matters: The chip represents a major advance over the firm's prior efforts aimed at the PC market, which suffered from tepid performance and limited Windows compatibility.

Details: The new chip, dubbed the Snapdragon Elite X, stems from Qualcomm's $1.4 billion Nuvia acquisition. Originally promised for availability in 2023, it will become available to consumers next year.

  • The Elite X uses a 12-core Oryon CPU running at 3.8GHz and is expected to show up in computers around the middle of next year. Lenovo and HP are among the PC makers promising to debut devices running the new chip.
  • Qualcomm says the Snapdragon X Elite can locally run AI models with up to 13 billion parameters without needing to rely on AI processing in the cloud.

What they're saying: "There is a new sheriff in town," Qualcomm CEO Cristiano Amon said, showing the Snapdragon X Elite outpacing the fastest chips from Apple and Intel on a specific benchmark for single-threaded CPU performance.

  • When matching the power of Apple's M2 Max, Amon says Qualcomm's chip can do so while using 30% less power. Similarly, Amon says Qualcomm's chip can match the performance of Intel's fastest laptop chip while using nearly 70% less power.
  • Yes, but: Qualcomm is comparing the performance of its next-year offering with the speeds of chips that Apple and Intel are shipping now. The competition is unlikely to stand still.

The big picture: The PC chip battle, long a two-horse race between Intel and AMD, is getting more interesting.

  • Reuters reported Monday that Nvidia plans to offer a PC processor using ARM's architecture as soon as 2025, and AMD is also expected to offer an ARM-based chip option. Intel and AMD's current chips use what is known as the x86 instruction set, pioneered decades ago by Intel and once nearly universal.

Between the lines: Microsoft and PC makers such as HP, Lenovo and Dell have been seeking more power-efficient options to better match Apple's capabilities.

The intrigue: ARM is suing Qualcomm, saying the licenses currently held by Qualcomm don't cover PC chips using Nuvia's technology.

  • A trial is slated to begin next September.
  • It's a messy legal battle with lots of twists and subplots, as we've reported, and billions of dollars at stake.

Separately: Qualcomm also talked up its on-device AI efforts, showing its latest cell phone processor generating an image using Stable Diffusion in under a minute.

  • The company also talked up a new technology for earbuds that will allow future wearables to create their own low-power Wi-Fi connection, freeing the devices from needing to be right near a phone, as is the case with Bluetooth headsets.
  • That opens up the possibility for devices that can operate on their own throughout homes and offices, or even across college or corporate campuses, without needing a nearby phone.

Disclosure: Reporting for this article took place at Qualcomm's Snapdragon Summit in Maui, where I am moderating an AI-related panel on Thursday. Qualcomm paid for my travel-related costs.

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