Last week I had the pleasure of attending Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Technology Summit in Maui with colleague and analyst Anshel Sag. In a separate column here, I detailed the new Snapdragon 855 smartphone chip, which promises to enable next-generation technologies such as 5G, VR, and AI, on next year’s crop of Android smartphones. The 855 represents the Android smartphone community the increased opportunity to differentiate versus both Apple and Huawei. Today I wanted to go in depth on another big announcement from the summit—Qualcomm’s new 7nm Always-Connected PC platform, the “Snapdragon 8cx.”
Designed for “Always Connected” PCs
The 8cx is the first 7nm PC platform in the world, and while fab geometries aren’t that comparable any more between TSMC, Samsung and Intel, I can safely say 8cx is the densest and most power efficient PC platform anywhere. Qualcomm designed the platform from the ground up for next-generation computing experiences, namely the always on, always connected PC category (ACPC for short). I’ve been following Qualcomm’s efforts in ACPC for some time (read more here and here) and it’s important to look at this as a journey, not a destination right now.
ACPC is a category that has a lot of promise—merging the connectivity and battery life of the smartphone, with the performance and capability of the PC. The ACPC experience is the future of PCs and I have yet to meet anybody who says it is not. That being said, the category has been slow to take off commercially due to various technological and marketing barriers. With this new offering, Qualcomm is hoping to change that, at least technologically.
Big-time, PC-class CPU and GPU
The 8cx Platform is the fastest Snapdragon platform in existence with what I consider a real PC-class CPU and GPU which, by the way runs a real desktop operating system. Some vendors claim they have a PC-class processor but pair it with a mobile operating system, quite different from a PC operating system.
The 8cx features Qualcomm’s new Adreno 680 GPU, which is its most powerful GPU to date. It features 3.5x the 835 and 2x the 850 performance and double the memory interface, at 128 bits wide. It sports the new eight-core Qualcomm Kryo 495 CPU, the fastest Kryo CPU to date, which will enable faster multi-tasking and increased productivity. The Kryo 495 makes some huge leaps—10MB cache, three cache levels (just like a PC processor) and double the performance of the 850 at lower power. Having extensively used four different Qualcomm-based ACPC designs as my primary system, this is exactly where the added levels of performance are required.
Big-time I/O and connectivity
Connectivity is obviously huge for ACPCs. The 8cx features the Snapdragon X24 LTE modem, which enables operators to fully mobilize their spectrum and optimize the capabilities of 2GBps Gigabit LTE—essentially “building the path to 5G.” While I would have loved 5G in the 8cx, it’s a schedule issue and quite frankly, PC OEMs aren’t as motivated or aggressive as the smartphone vendors. Current ACPC users will experience up to a 2X performance increase and I don’t think they will be sad. This go-around, I hope PC makers will all enable 4x4 MIMO to fully take advantage of what the carriers are offering but also understand the challenge of antenna placement in the display.
Additionally, the 8cx features support for second generation USB 3.1 via Type C, and third generation PCI-E, again, very “PC platform-like.” This will allow users to connect up to two 4k HDR monitors to their 8cx device. The 8cx also features Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 4+ technology, which will obviously play well with the on-the-go ACPC target audience. Another feature Qualcomm is touting is the 8cx’s Aqstic suite of audio technologies that includes advanced audio codecs, smart power amplifiers, and advanced audio and voice software capabilities. Qualcomm says this will improve voice assistant functionality and enable HD wireless Bluetooth audio. I can’t wait to try it out. I am assuming as PCIe was added that ODMs and OEMs could use ThunderBolt 3 chips if they choose, but I will need to do some research on that.
Qualcomm ACPC goes enterprise
Qualcomm announced that the 8cx will support Windows 10 Enterprise customers, the first Snapdragon platform to do so. Microsoft’s Erin Chapple provided details on stage at the event, going as far as to say, “the best way to experience Microsoft 365 is with a connected PC.” This makes sense, and I see it as an indicator that Microsoft is also doubling down on the ACPC category.
Given Microsoft is the kingmaker of enterprise personal computers, I’d say this is one of the biggest announcements of the day, essentially doubling the Qualcomm ACPC TAM. I can see hordes of salespeople with an ACPC benefitting from the insane battery life, great connectivity and now the radically improved performance. There is still a lot of software work to be done to support all enterprise’s 64-bit native applications, but I am increasingly seeing native Arm apps (like Firefox – who also announced support at the event.) Emulation will work a lot better with the 8cx increased performance.
Snapdragon 8cx is part of a family offering
It’s important to note that the entry of the 8cx doesn’t mean the 835 or 850 go away. They don’t. The 835 and 850 will live providing OEMs and customers different performance tiers. Therefore, we should expect much lower priced ACPCs in the $500 range which expands the market opportunity.
The 8cx is the first truly mobile platform I consider to deliver premium desktop performance and multi-day battery life—which is huge. Furthermore, the 8cx will not be a one-hit wonder, there is a committed roadmap and is part of a family. Qualcomm is finally going for it in the PC market, it’s very exciting and there is a lot more investment to come.
With the 8cx, we finally have a Qualcomm ACPC with premium desktop architecture and performance. There's a lot of potential here—let's hope the PC OEMs, carriers and retailers don't screw this opportunity up! My biggest beef with x86-based PCs is battery life communications. My Qualcomm-based ACPC testing shows I get 2-3X the battery life of typical notebooks yet the marketing literature and retail POS shows equivalence. This is because the new battery life marketing standard is movie playback- important, but certainly not “day in the life.” My second beef is with the carriers who can’t seem to make it easier for consumers to get connectivity as they are more focused on consumer lock-in. Let’s hope battery life and ease of carrier plans get solved soon.
The ACPC is a journey, a worthwhile one, and I am excited to see the progress with the next installment, the Snapdragon 8cx.
Note: Moor Insights & Strategy writers and editors may have contributed to this article.
Patrick founded the firm based on his real-world world technology experiences with the understanding of what he wasn’t getting from analysts and consultants. Ten years later, Patrick is ranked #1 among technology industry analysts in terms of “power” (ARInsights) in “press citations” (Apollo Research). Moorhead is a contributor at Forbes and frequently appears on CNBC. He is a broad-based analyst covering a wide variety of topics including the cloud, enterprise SaaS, collaboration, client computing, and semiconductors. He has 30 years of experience including 15 years of executive experience at high tech companies (NCR, AT&T, Compaq, now HP, and AMD) leading strategy, product management, product marketing, and corporate marketing, including three industry board appointments.