Qualcomm is on a roll, its 5G modem leadership solidified by recent partner 5G announcements across carriers in the US, Europe, and Asia. While nearly all of these 5G devices have been smartphones, many have wondered when the first 5G PC would hit the scene. That question was answered at Computex 2019, with Qualcomm and Lenovo ’s joint announcement of the world’s first prototype 5G PC codenamed Project Limitless. Let’s take a closer look.
Qualcomm has been working on bringing 5G to PCs ever since it started pushing its always-connected PC initiative and putting Snapdragon processors in Windows PCs. This initiative has already introduced consumers a new category of ultra-long-lasting devices, which, to this day, are hard to beat in terms of real daily battery life. I have personally used the Lenovo Yoga C630, which features Qualcomm’s fastest currently available Snapdragon 850 processor, and I have been impressed by the battery life and performance.
Qualcomm once again partnered with Lenovo on the latest iteration of its always-connected PC designs with Project Limitless. Project Limitless pairs Qualcomm’s newest processor for Windows, the 8cx, with the company’s newest LTE modem, the Snapdragon X55, to deliver 5G connectivity to a new iteration of Lenovo’s always-connected PC. It also delivers a new balance of performance and battery life to the always-connected PC category. While the experience on the Snapdragon 850 has been good at times, it still had times where it felt a bit sluggish. That’s where the Snapdragon 8cx is expected to change things up for fans of these marathon-like Windows PCs. The 8cx brings an 8-Core CPU design that is custom-designed for use in Windows PCs and is designed to be competitive with Intel’s most recent offerings in the space. Qualcomm brought UL’s benchmark team, formerly known as Futuremark, to the conference to showcase how well the 8cx performs in their PCMark 10 and 3DMark benchmark, both in terms of actual performance and battery life. The performance numbers showed the 8cx on par with or faster than Intel ’s comparable 8th Gen i5 in Windows Office applications and their 3D benchmark.
It’s the pairing of the 8cx processor with an X55 modem that makes Qualcomm’s 5G PC play a compelling one. The company is aggressively working to improve ARM64 native application support and it is starting to show dividends with more responsive performance for applications like Edge on Chromium. Firefox for ARM64 already feels incredibly smooth and fast on my YOGA C630, and I expect that as more frameworks like Electron start to support ARM64 natively, we’ll see even more apps running optimized for Windows on ARM. Even game engines are starting to make the transition; Unity has a working version of its engine running on a Snapdragon 8cx PC with frame rates in the mid-50s.
This sub-6 GHz design does not have a concrete ship date quite yet, but Qualcomm says that we can expect more from the two companies in 2020. Qualcomm did show the Lenovo 5G PC live streaming YouTube over a 5G connection (which is being simulated due to spectrum constraints and the lack of a commercial 5G network in Taipei). In addition to the Project Limitless device, Qualcomm also had a Compal reference design laptop on display at Computex. The device featured a Qualcomm Snapdragon 8cx processor paired with an X55 modem, with support for both mmWave and sub-6 GHz spectrum. While it remains to be seen who will utilize such a design from Compal, it is one of the biggest PC ODMs in the world, and many laptop manufacturers leverage its designs and expertise to build their laptops.
Qualcomm is leveraging its prowess in 5G to improve the value proposition of its always-connected PCs even further. Everyone knows that Qualcomm gets connectivity, so it makes total sense for the company to lead with connectivity on its latest Snapdragon processor for Windows. While the performance numbers for the 8cx are still early, it looks quite promising against the competition. It looks like we might have to wait until 2020 to get 5G PCs from Qualcomm and its partners, but from what we heard at Computex, it should be worth the wait. We should see 4G PCs with 8cx sooner than that, but those won’t have 5G which has been one of Qualcomm’s big selling points this year across smartphones. A Qualcomm exec also recently admitted after Computex that the company is working on a more cost-optimized SoC called the 7cx, which should target slightly cheaper PCs. Keep your eye on Qualcomm in the coming year.