Cristiano Amon, president and CEO of Qualcomm, and Gerard Williams, senior vice president of engineering at Qualcomm, presenting the Oryon CPU at Snapdragon Summit 2023. Source Patrick Moorhead
Qualcomm recently held its annual Snapdragon Summit in Maui, Hawaii, and despite the recent tragic wildfires in Maui, I was happy to see Qualcomm return. I attended the event in person and was able to sit down with CEO Cristiano Amon for a special episode of the Six Five Podcast. I also met with the leaders of the smartphone, PC, audio businesses.
Qualcomm made some very big announcements this year that I believe will significantly impact the PC industry. While Intel and AMD have spent a lot of effort recently to inform customers and partners of their latest AI endeavors, Qualcomm only needed to remind its audience that it has been building on-device AI for more than a few years. You can read my coverage of the Snapdragon Summit 2021 here; I would consider that a prelude to Qualcomm’s announcement of the Oryon CPU and the new Snapdragon X Elite PC processor.
Qualcomm has been building up to this moment for years, and through innovative design, a push for AI and connectivity and the company’s emphasis on partnerships, Qualcomm has become the leader in mobile computing. Let’s take a look at what it announced and what that means for mobile computing.
The new Oryon CPU
The Oryon CPU is Qualcomm’s first new CPU model since acquiring Nuvia back in 2021. Engineering leader Gerald Williams came over in the acquisition, and his team is credited with designing the Oryon. We can think of the new chip as Qualcomm’s answer to Apple’s move toward the Arm architecture with its M-series chips for Mac. Apple’s strategy with its Mac chips is very similar to Qualcomm’s in that Apple took its smartphone SoC and upscaled it—giving it more cores, memory and power—for use in PCs.
Qualcomm does the same scaling of technologies across its many different verticals. From the smartwatch to smartphones, PCs and automotive components, Qualcomm has a unified ecosystem of technologies. This strategy is why you will see many of the same Snapdragon features such as Snapdragon Sound and FastConnect on the new Snapdragon X Elite SoC, which we will talk about later. Given this strategy, it’s no surprise that Oryon is in both the new Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 for mobile devices and—again with more cores, memory and power—in the new Snapdragon X Elite for PCs.
For a first-generation product, the Oryon showed some impressive performance metrics. Before I comment on competitive performance comparisons, I want to say that I know these numbers are from Qualcomm and—like with every other company—they are made to look good. With that said, Cristiano Amon is completely justified in saying “There is a new sheriff in town.”
Qualcomm provided single-threaded and multi-threaded performance comparisons with silicon from both Apple and Intel—the two leaders for Arm and x86/Windows PCs.
Single-Threaded CPU Benchmarks
- Exceeds the M2 Max while consuming 30% less power
- Exceeds 13th Gen Intel Core HX-Series CPU while consuming 70% less power
Multi-Threaded CPU Benchmarks
- Twice the multi-threaded speed of the 13th Gen Intel Core P-series processors while consuming 68% less power
- 60% faster multi-threaded CPU performance compared to the 13th Gen Intel Core H-series processors while consuming 65% less power
- 50% faster peak multi-threaded CPU performance versus the Apple M2
Not only is it impressive that the Oryon CPU is outperforming its x86 and Arm competition in terms of raw performance, but it is also doing so while consuming less power for both ST and MT benchmarks. Apple may have put performance-per-watt on the map, but in these comparisons Oryon showed better PPW as well as the best pure performance.
It is also worth noting that Qualcomm picked the very best Arm and x86 processors for mobile computing in these comparisons. The M2 Max has the highest ST CPU score on Geekbench 6, and the 13th Gen Intel Core HX series is Intel’s beefiest mobile processor for gaming and mobile workstations.
Alex Katouzian, senior vice president and general manager of Mobile, Compute and Infrastructure at Qualcomm, presenting the Snapdragon X Elite at Snapdragon Summit 2023. Source Patrick Moorhead
To put some of these numbers into perspective, let’s compare the design of the Surface Laptop Studio 2 and the Surface Pro 9. The Surface Laptop Studio 2 is a heavy mobile workstation with a powerful 13th Gen Intel Core i7-13700H processor with a base power of 45 watts. The Surface Pro 9 (Intel version) has a 12th Gen Intel Core i7-1255U processor with a base power of 15 watts. Theoretically you could have the CPU performance of the Surface Laptop Studio 2 within the Surface Pro form factor while maintaining the low base power. This level of performance and efficiency should be very exciting for ecosystem partners and consumers because it means OEMs have the freedom to play with more versatile and exciting mobile computing form factors without compromising speed or battery life.
Remember, the Oryon CPU is in both the new Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 and the Snapdragon X Elite, meaning that both SoCs will benefit from the extra performance. Oryon brings Qualcomm’s PC platform together, but it isn’t even the most impressive component in the Snapdragon X Elite, as I’ll explain.
The Snapdragon X Elite has even Apple scared
Following Qualcomm’s new naming schema for its mobile PC SoCs, the Snapdragon X Elite features the new Oryon CPU, an upscaled Adreno GPU, an impressive Hexagon processor and all of Qualcomm’s Snapdragon connectivity, sound, camera and security features.
Qualcomm mentioned Dual-Core Boost during its keynote and expanded on it during the second day of the event. Dual-Core Boost takes two high-performance cores that can boost up to 4.3 gigahertz for faster processing at times when the workload demands a quick boost. Qualcomm mentioned that it is the first Arm-based CPU to go above 4 gigahertz, though this is not for sustained amounts of time.
It’s worth noting that Qualcomm does not have multiple SKUs of Snapdragon X Elite processors that vary depending on power consumption and cores, but only one processor with 12 high-performance cores. Just as Qualcomm replicates its technology across all its verticals, it is giving its OEM partners the opportunity to scale the Snapdragon X Elite across a broad range of thermal designs. This is huge for OEMs because it leaves room for a lot of options.
For example, let’s say I’m Dell, and I want to make a laptop with exchangeable parts so that customers can replace or upgrade their mobile workstations. As one option, I want to give customers the opportunity to upgrade their thermal solution. The Snapdragon X Elite allows me to increase its base power, unlocking higher performance and upgrading the device without needing to exchange the SoC. Hypothetically, this is possible and would allow for more modular and sustainable designs from ecosystem partners. Want the Snapdragon X Elite in an ultra-portable 2-in-1 notebook? Go ahead. Want it in a premium gaming laptop? By all means. It has the required performance and power efficiency. In fact, Samsung and Qualcomm are already kind of doing this on the smartphone level with the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 and Gen 2 for Galaxy devices.
Snapdragon X Elite infographic. Source Qualcomm
On-Device AI Enablement With 45 TOPS
This versatility across a broad range of thermal designs is also important for the next generation of AI PCs. AI will enable new, versatile and adaptive models of PCs—which you should expect to see on the market soon. Local inferencing and generative AI will create new experiences that encourage versatile form factors and designs. In this connection, Qualcomm’s Hexagon AI processor was the star of the show.
The Snapdragon X Elite has a new Hexagon processor that the company says can execute 45 trillion operations per second, with a combined 75 heterogenous TOPS spread among the Hexagon processor, the Adreno GPU and the Oryon CPU. That is about 4.5 times faster processing than the projected number of TOPS for corresponding Intel and AMD products. It’s also about 100 times more on-device AI processing than last year’s Snapdragon Hexagon processor, plus Qualcomm says that the new Hexagon is capable of running a 7-billion parameter large language model like Llama-2-7b at 30 tokens per second locally. That is no small feat considering the capabilities of Llama-2, and it is a huge advancement for companies like Microsoft, HP and Dell that want to enable GAI to run on locally processed data. This AI announcement will make Intel, AMD and Apple jealous, but more than that it pays off onthe promises that Qualcomm gave its partners and ecosystem OEMs a few years ago.
Alex Katouzian, senior vice president and general manager of Mobile, Compute and Infrastructure at Qualcomm, presenting Snapdragon X Elite AI capabilities. Source Patrick Moorhead
While Qualcomm did not talk very much at the event about gaming, it did mention the upgraded Adreno GPU, which has its own impressive performance benchmarks. Compared to Intel’s integrated GPU, the Iris Xe, Qualcomm says the Adreno is twice as fast while consuming 74% less power. Similarly, compared to AMD’s Ryzen integrated GPU, the Radeon 780M, the Adreno is 80% faster while consuming 80% less power. While there is much less support for games and content creation software on Arm compared to x86, I believe this should give developers a reason to look at Windows on Arm for the future of gaming and content creation.
Partnerships that make it all happen
As a rule of thumb, it requires at least three strong players in a market to drive innovation—and competition like this is incredibly important in the Windows notebook processor ecosystem. Qualcomm has shown up and made itself unavoidable in this market, not only by launching a day-one industry-leading product but also through important ecosystem partnerships. Everybody in the Windows notebook ecosystem wants to kick Apple’s butt, especially Microsoft with its push for AI.
Industry partners from HP, Microsoft and Lenovo showed their support for Qualcomm in the opening keynote of the Snapdragon Summit. If the benchmarks for the Snapdragon X Elite hold water, Apple should be worried because it no longer has the best PPW in the bag, and Intel should be worried because it now has competition that hurts its leadership in performance, connectivity and AI for the Windows ecosystem.
Not only did we see ecosystem partners at the event, but we also saw a lot of global and regional support from companies including OpenAI, Microsoft, Google Android and Meta. This amount of cross-device support is challenging to achieve, and I am impressed that Qualcomm has been able to pull it off.
Industry-leading support for on-device models. Source Patrick Moorhead
Snapdragon 8 Gen 3, The “AI Chip”
Qualcomm also announced the Snapdragon 8 Gen 3, which it has dubbed “Gen AI”—and for good reason. Like its new big brother the Snapdragon X Elite, the Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 boasts massive processor gains, especially for the Hexagon processor.
The Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 has a 30% faster CPU, 25% faster GPU and a whopping 98% faster NPU than its predecessor. Although Qualcomm did not give the exact number of TOPS the Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 can perform, it did reveal that it can run Llama-2-7b at 20 tokens per second. Keep in mind that this is not heterogeneous AI processing across all three processors. It is most likely sustained processing from the NPU alone, which makes it even more impressive. When you take into account heterogeneous AI processing and other hybrid workloads that are done locally and securely, it makes for a bright future for Qualcomm smartphones.
Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 infographic. Source Qualcomm
Qualcomm also talked about its on-device personalization with the Qualcomm Sensing Hub. This feature securely and privately creates a virtual assistant by leveraging user data for personalized responses. I am curious to see how well this works and how similar it is to Google Assistant with Bard, which most likely does not run locally.
The Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 also has support for Micron’s LPDDR5X with a speed of 9.6Gbps. Much of the Hexagon’s impressive processing speed would not be conceivable without the blazing-fast speed of LPDDR5X memory.
The Snapdragon Summit was a great event for Qualcomm and its partners. If AI is the future of PCs and smartphones, Qualcomm is making it happen with on-device AI processing. As I look back, what rings in my mind comes from what Cristiano Amon and Gerard Williams said at the beginning of the opening day keynote, namely that the Oryon CPU is a first-generation product. In other words, this is only phase one, and there are going to be many more Qualcomm CPUs to come that have improved performance and power.
I can’t imagine what else Qualcomm has up its sleeve after announcing multiple industry-leading first-generation products. But I am excited to see new notebooks, tablets and smartphones running on Qualcomm’s new SoCs—and making the most of the innovation that these new processors drive.