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Hands on: Qualcomm's Snapdragon 8cx reference laptop is a fresh attempt to be faster

The Qualcomm Snapdragon 8cx is the chip the corporate hopes will scale the efficiency mountain, attaining the heights that competing Intel Core chips have already surmounted. After making an attempt it at Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Era Summit in Maui, we will be able to say it sort of feels promising.

As we realized Thursday morning, the Snapdragon 8cx used to be designed as a ground-up, optimized design in particular for laptops. Its undertaking is to reach efficiency similar to that of an Intel U-series Core i5 chip.

Qualcomm provided a restricted choice of Snapdragon 8cx reference notebooks on the tournament, all operating Home windows 10 Professional. We attempted to navigate to some of the web-based benchmarks we’ve used to check earlier Snapdragon PCs, however we had been advised that benchmarking wasn’t allowed. Partly, that’s for the reason that clock speeds of the chip haven’t been officially made up our minds.

We had been however in a position to try 3 issues: the entire responsiveness of the Snapdragon 8cx platform, and two browsers: a Firefox Nightly construct optimized for ARM64 chips just like the 8cx, in addition to a primary have a look at the Chromium (now not Google Chrome!) open-source browser that Qualcomm helps increase. 

(For a more in-depth have a look at the demanding situations going through Qualcomm because it pursues Intel, take a look at my colleague Gordon Mah Ung’s video, which compares Intel and Qualcomm chips in a beautiful distinctive shootout.) 


As a result of Qualcomm’s a chip corporate, we didn’t be expecting to look a lot in the way in which of distinctive —and we didn’t. The reference pocket book used to be a slightly same old touchscreen convertible (360-degree hinge), with a couple of USB-C ports alongside the aspect. That’s a plus, for the reason that first Snapdragon-based Asus NovaGo used a proprietary charger. 

8cx reference notebook side Mark Hachman / IDG

The SIM slot at the aspect of the 8cx reference pocket book.

The opposite aspect of the computer integrated a SIM slot. Whilst the preliminary Snapdragon 8cx machines will likely be constructed round LTE, they’ll sooner or later acquire 5G functions, Qualcomm executives mentioned.

Snappy and responsive

Qualcomm arrange demo stations to turn the 8cx in motion. Within the video underneath, you’ll see some fundamental paintings with media-heavy websites and YouTube. In different places within the demo room, Qualcomm workers loaded up the brand new ARM64-optimized Firefox browser in addition to Edge, along Photoshop, then navigated backward and forward, scrolling up and down. 

Qualcomm Snapdragon 8cx reference notebook config Mark Hachman / IDG

This is the configuration screen of the Snapdragon 8cx reference notebook. This is not indicative of the final configuration.

We were told later that Verizon was throttling the download speeds of 4K YouTube videos, prompting the start-and-stop behavior you see. Vimeo was left unthrottled, and played back 4K videos just fine. We also managed to crash the prototype device, hard-locking it in the course of normal use. Apparently some bugs still need to be worked out before the chips are expected to ship in actual products, in Q3 2019.

Still, we can hope that these demos represent final performance expectations. We also hope the long battery life, pervasive connection, and “instant on” wakefulness persist into shipping products.


Firefox and Chromium

We looked at how Firefox runs on the Snapdragon 8cx, specifically the version coded for the ARM64 instruction set. Through we didn’t push it hard, it certainly looked and felt like the Firefox desktop browser we know. (The darker logo is used to distinguish the Nightly beta builds from the more stable, regular builds.)

iFirefox Nightly, Chromium, 8cx Mark Hachman / IDG

A Qualcomm employee shows off the Firefox Nightly browser on the left screen, with Chromium on the right. Both are coded for ARM64, the instruction set used by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8cx.

The video below shows off both Chromium and Firefox Nightly, with several media-rich tabs, running on the same machine. There’s little slowdown, which is a testament to the browser developers as well as to Qualcomm. (Note: To correct something I say in the video, the Edge browser hasn’t been required by a Snapdragon chip. Rather, because the first Snapdragon-based notebooks shipped with Windows 10 in S Mode, they were limited to using Edge.)


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