Qualcomm made a pair of announcements related to its PC and Chromebook products, as well as and overall Windows development. Currently, Qualcomm manufacturers three SoCs intended for Windows laptops: the Snapdragon 8cx Gen 2, the Snapdragon 8c, and the Snapdragon 7c Gen 2. The “Gen 2” products, as the name implies, are the more recent refreshes.
The Snapdragon 7c Gen 2 is a modest update over Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 7c. The new chip offers a pair of Kryo 468 Gold cores and six Cortex Kryo 468 Silver cores. These correspond to the Cortex-A76 and Cortex-A55 respectively, just like the Cortex 7c. The big change here is the clock speed, which has been bumped from 2.55GHz to 2.4GHz — an increase of just 6.5 percent.
This is absolutely an entry-level platform and Qualcomm isn’t pretending otherwise. While there are no benchmarks for the 7c Gen 2, a recent analysis by HotTech Vision & Analysis shared results for the Snapdragon 7c compared with Chromebooks running on the Intel Pentium Silver N5030 or Celeron N4020:
HotTech also reports excellent battery life from their reference platform, with more than 2x the battery life of the next-best Intel option. HotTech was evaluating a reference platform, which likely represents a best-foot-forward position for Qualcomm, but the data here is still encouraging for the ARM systems. Low-end Chromebook sales absolutely boomed in 2020 thanks to enormous demand in education markets, so it makes sense that Qualcomm would want to push refreshed hardware into these markets.
Meanwhile, Qualcomm also showed off a new Dev kit for Windows on ARM programmers to use for compatibility testing:
While the company isn’t sharing any big details on the hardware kit, it makes sense that it would be built around the Snapdragon 7c Gen 2, that being the part Qualcomm just announced.
It’s not clear what Qualcomm plans for the upper-end of its Windows on ARM product family this year. We know that the company expects to sample next-generation CPUs based on the Nuvia IP it acquired earlier this year by the back half of 2022, implying a launch in Q1 – Q2 2023 at the earliest. There’s plenty of room for at least one major refresh between then and now, even if Nuvia’s ARM cores are a substantial uplift over default Cortex designs.
An SoC based on the Snapdragon 888 would offer one Cortex-X1 core and three Cortex-A78 cores, paired with four Cortex-A55 “little” cores. This would represent a fair jump, as the 8cx is still based on the Cortex-A78. A 1.3x – 1.5x uplift isn’t crazy, depending on what kind of PC platform update Qualcomm brings to market and when they ship it.
Thus far, the ARM platforms that have appeared for Windows have posed no threat to the dominant x86 hegemony. Qualcomm seems likely to be the first company to field a serious challenger to x86 on Windows. The Cortex-A78, while a solid improvement over the Cortex-A76, probably won’t close the gap on its own.
On the one hand, this represents a solid buffer for the x86 manufacturers, as far as giving them time to prepare for competition from the rival ISA. On the other, you can bet the last thing AMD and Intel want is for consumers to spend two years hearing about how great Apple’s ARM processors are, only for Qualcomm to turn around and finally ship ARM laptops on Windows. ARM is not yet ready to challenge x86 for control of the Windows ecosystem, but the very idea that it could is something Intel and AMD are undoubtedly anxious to kibosh, the sooner the better.
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