It was a few months ago when we talked about how Apple’s latest computers would be great for the Zimbabweans dealing with power cuts:
The M series chips that Apple designs itself make this possible. Apple’s M series chips are basically ARM-based smartphone chips on performance-enhancing drugs.
To make sure we are on the same page, here is a simplified table of the differences between the two processor architectures.
x86 vs ARM
- Used By: Mostly found in traditional desktop and laptop computers, including many Windows PCs and some Macs (before the transition to Apple Silicon).
- Characteristics: Generally associated with higher power consumption and performance suitable for a wide range of computing tasks.
- Example Operating Systems: Windows, Linux, macOS (for Intel-based Macs before the transition).
- Used By: Commonly found in mobile devices (phones, tablets), embedded systems, and increasingly in laptops and servers.
- Characteristics: Known for energy efficiency and versatility, making it suitable for devices where power consumption is crucial.
- Example Operating Systems: Android, iOS, Linux, and versions of Windows for ARM.
Apple’s M series chips are ARM-based
They don’t draw too much power which means they last forever on battery power. All while they are really powerful. Will you find more powerful Intel/AMD chips than the highest-end M series chip? You will, especially if we’re talking workstations where Apple’s lower cores and clocks count against the M Ultra chips.
However, when we look at the mobile form factor, the M series chips shine. They are really good at performance per watt, meaning M series-powered computers currently lead in that regard. That means they get superior battery life all while pretty much maintaining their performance even on battery power.
I am using a Windows gaming laptop and I tell you, I’m lucky to squeeze four hours out of its battery. That’s less than two hours on WiFi and gaming on battery power is not even an option. On games I get 80fps on, it’s down to less than 10fps on battery, unplayable.
So, of course, I was looking at Apple’s M series chips in total envy. I’m one of those who couldn’t use a MacBook as my only computer and so I was looking at Intel and AMD to get serious about ARM chips. Then Qualcomm came out and dropped the world’s jaw.
Yes, it’s the same Qualcomm you know for the Android processors.
Snapdragon X Elite
Snapdragon has a monopoly on ARM-based Windows chips that ends in 2024. That could explain why we haven’t really seen any mind-blowing announcements on the Windows ARM chips front until now.
Does the timing of Snapdragon’s latest announcement have something to do with the exclusivity deal ending in 2024? Of course, they will have to compete from next year. Nvidia and AMD are working on their own ARM chips for Windows and so it’s going to heat up.
To get ahead of it, Qualcomm announced an impressive Snapdragon X Elite.
It is a high-performance Arm-based SoC (System on a Chip) designed for personal computers. The Snapdragon X Elite is expected to be available in laptops starting in mid-2024.
If you aren’t into the nerdy details, you can skip the coloured section below:
Snapdragon X Elite key features:
- Custom Qualcomm Oryon CPU: The Snapdragon X Elite features a custom Qualcomm Oryon CPU with up to 12 cores. This is the first time that Qualcomm has used a custom CPU design in a laptop SoC. Two cores are capable of clocking up to 4.3 GHz and the remaining 10 cores are capable of clocking up to 3.8 GHz.
- The CPU performance depends heavily on the TDP used. This can be set from 12 Watts (without fan) to 80 Watts.
- Adreno GPU: The Snapdragon X Elite also features a powerful Adreno GPU that is designed to deliver high-performance graphics for gaming and other demanding tasks.
- Hexagon NPU: The Snapdragon X Elite also includes a Hexagon NPU that is designed to accelerate AI workloads. This is particularly important for applications such as image recognition and natural language processing.
- Up to 75 TOPS of AI performance: The Snapdragon X Elite is capable of delivering up to 75 TOPS of AI performance, which is significantly higher than any other laptop SoC currently available.
- Support for next-generation features: The Snapdragon X Elite also supports a number of next-generation features, such as Wi-Fi 7 and Bluetooth 5.3.
How does it compare against the competition?
XDA Developers tested two reference X Elite chips, one with an 80W TDP and one with 23W against two Intel Core-i7-powered laptops, a Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3-powered one and an M2-powered MacBook Air.
They found that both Snapdragon X Elite units beat all the others in both single- and multi-core in Geekbench 6.2.
In Cinebench 2024, the multi-core performance of the Snapdragon X Elite comes out well ahead of the competition. The single-core score is higher as well, but not as much, especially on the 23W unit.
The successor to the M2 that the X Elite beat was announced and how does the fight go?
Trusted Reviews found that the M3 Max has 35% higher multi-core scores but the X Elite has marginally better single-core scores.
All this means the X Elite is competitive and downright embarrasses Intel and AMD on efficiency. This is no surprise because of the ARM architecture they have had a monopoly on.
The battery performance has not been independently tested but Qualcomm is confident that some configurations have the potential for multiple-day battery life.
All this from a processor with good performance unlike the old Snapdragon processors that lasted for over 20 hours but were so underpowered you could not appreciate that longevity.
What it means for you
The next time you shop for a Windows laptop, you won’t be looking at just Intel and AMD, you will seriously consider the Snapdragon too. Who would not appreciate a laptop that can go for days on one charge in this Zimbabwe of ours?
With performance that beats the Core i7 all while being more efficient, few will find the chip to be underpowered. When the battery gains that come from that are considered, most Zimbabweans would be happy with a Snapdragon-powered Windows laptop.
However, there is the matter of Windows apps. Some popular apps have been rewritten to optimally utilise ARM but some still have not, the biggest example being Google Chrome. The ones that were not rewritten will still run but they have to run through an emulation.
That will remove some of the advantages in efficiency that ARM brings. PCMag watched a YouTube video on Chrome running through an emulator and Edge running natively on ARM on the same laptop. They found that Edge lasted two and a half hours longer.
So, it might still be prudent to wait a little on these ARM Windows PCs for some people. You will have to consider how you intend to use your laptop and check the state of the apps you use. I couldn’t use the Snapdragon X Elite because emulation does not provide the best results for gaming.