The future generation of PC chips from Qualcomm is here — and Acer and HP will soon sell products using the technology as Apple gears up for similar computers of its own.
Qualcomm on Thursday at the IFA electronics show in Berlin unveiled the second generation of its 8cx processor for Microsoft Windows laptops and 2-in-1 devices.
The company says the 8cx Gen 2 5G has up to 50% better performance than Intel’s hybrid Core i5 processor and has up to 58% better performance per watt of energy consumed. Compared with Intel’s 10th generation Core i5 process, the 8cx Gen 2 has 18% better performance. It packs in advanced camera and artificial intelligence capabilities, as well as strong security.
PCs using the chip can last for multiple days on a single charge, Qualcomm said. Along with being Qualcomm’s second 8cx chip, the new processor is the second computing chip to offer 5G connectivity through both sub-6 GHz and mmWave, and it also has Wi-Fi 6 connectivity.
“How we work is undergoing a massive transformation that’s bringing mobility and connectivity technologies to the forefront,” Qualcomm President Cristiano Amon said during a virtual keynote at the IFA trade show in Berlin. “Qualcomm is laser focused on helping to drive this transition.”
Acer joined Amon on stage to talk up the Acer Spin 7, the world’s first Snapdragon 8cx Gen 2 notebook. The machine has a 360-degree hinge to swivel from a clamshell laptop into a slate-style tablet, and it supports both types of 5G.
HP also said it will be making a product using the second-generation 8cx. It didn’t give any details, but Qualcomm hinted that it’s a different kind of device.
Qualcomm’s vision is laptops that are more like smartphones — always connected to a cellular network and lasting all day on a single charge. It’s something the industry and consumers want, but the first devices haven’t lived up to the promises. Still, the sector could get a boost as more people seek out devices for working and studying from home during the novel coronavirus pandemic. While people are watching their spending, they’re scooping up electronics, like laptops.
“People learning from home, working from home, working from anywhere,” Miguel Nunes, senior director of product management, said in a meeting with reporters ahead of the news. “We believe our products are even more relevant than ever.”
The novel coronavirus, which has infected more than 25 million people around the globe, has caused companies to rethink their product launches. GSMA canceled Mobile World Congress, the world’s biggest mobile show, a week before journalists were due to arrive in Barcelona in late February. Instead of phone launches over the past several months, Apple, Samsung, Huawei and OnePlus all held digital events or introduced devices via press release.
IFA, held in Berlin, is the first big tech convention taking place with an in-person component during the outbreak. But it’s a scaled-back event, with a maximum 5,000 attendees instead of 200,000. Americans aren’t allowed into European countries like Germany, which means companies like Qualcomm have to participate in the conference remotely. Amon gave one of the main keynotes at the show.
The Snapdragon 8cx Gen 2 5G is the latest effort by Qualcomm to break in to the traditional PC market. About eight years ago, Qualcomm worked with Microsoft and a handful of computer makers on devices that ran a hobbled version of Windows called Windows RT. They quickly abandoned those Windows RT devices, but over the past several years, they revitalized the efforts to put smartphone chips in computers.
Qualcomm unveiled the first generation of 8cx chip two years ago at its Snapdragon Summit in Maui. At the time, it said the always-connected PC “delivers freedom.” The following year, it released two new chips for cheaper Windows computers. The Snapdragon 8c and 7c processors bring 4G LTE, all-day battery life and thin and light designs to mainstream and entry-level notebooks
Despite efforts by Qualcomm and Microsoft, PCs running the same kind of chips that power phones haven’t really caught on with consumers. They may have great battery life and constant connectivity, but they haven’t been able to match the performance of processors from Intel and AMD. There are also software compatibility issues because the programs that are built for traditional x86 chips don’t work on Arm chips like those from Qualcomm. Qualcomm has used 5G as a big selling point, but it hasn’t yet widely caught on with PC makers.
Lenovo has a 5G laptop based on Qualcomm technology, but Samsung, a close partner of Qualcomm, on Wednesday unveiled its first 5G laptop — without Qualcomm chips. The Galaxy Book Flex 5G is a 2-in-1 machine that uses an Intel processor and an unspecified modem that’s likely made by Samsung itself. Qualcomm’s 5G modems only work with its Snapdragon chips.
Now that both the first- and second-generation 8cx chips are available, Qualcomm expects devices to sell in higher numbers.
“[With] the 8cx, it’s the first time that we get ready for scale,” Amon said during a meeting with reporters ahead of his IFA keynote. “The design pipeline is probably better than we would have thought.”
And Arm-based Windows machines could have greater acceptance later this year when Apple introduces its first Macs that are powered by Arm chips like those it designs for iPhones and iPads. Instead of using a processor from Intel, Apple will pack in an A Series chip that it designed to be ultra power efficient and potentially less expensive.
While Apple’s software won’t work on PCs from companies like HP and Asus, the company’s move to design its own Mac chips could make people more accepting of laptops with mobile processors — and show the importance of features like all-day battery life.
“It’s going to be one of those where Apple is going to get to [a market] late, and it’s going to pave the way for Windows to be successful on Arm,” Creative Strategies analyst Carolina Milanesi said.