What is Snapdragon X Elite? Explaining Qualcomm's new flagship Arm laptop processors.

Qualcomm Snapdragon X Elite
(Image credit: Qualcomm)

Windows on Arm | #FasterThanApple

All-new Snapdragon X Elite Arm processors from Qualcomm beat Apple's M3 chip in performance benchmarks and rank dead even with the Apple M3 Pro. The landscape of portable PCs is about to change as Windows on Arm becomes faster than Apple.

Quick answer: The Snapdragon X Elite is an ARM64 SoC — with Oryon CPU, Adreno GPU, and Hexagon NPU — that is expected to revolutionize Windows on Arm devices. Three versions of the X Elite have been announced, each offering slightly different performance. They're powerful, they're efficient, and they boast the strongest NPU so far for AI acceleration in mobile PCs. Expect Qualcomm's Snapdragon X Elite to launch in 2024 in a wide range of upcoming laptops from nine major manufacturers.

What is Snapdragon X Elite?

Manju Varma on stage at the Snapdragon Summit. (Image credit: Daniel Rubino)

Qualcomm officially unveiled its next-gen Snapdragon X Elite platform in October 2023, kicking things off in a big way with bold claims about it being the most powerful and efficient mobile System-on-Chip (SoC) you can find. The Snapdragon X Elite encompasses a processor (CPU), integrated graphics (GPU), and a Neural Processing Unit (NPU) built together to form an SoC.

Now revealed after Qualcomm's April 24 presentation, the X Elite is split into three separate platforms, with the most powerful X1E-84-100 chip used for product comparisons. There are also X1E-80-100 and X1E-78-100 options, with slightly different performance metrics.

A chart comparing the X Elite and X Plus chips. (Image credit: Qualcomm)

Breaking down the X1E-84-100, the 64-bit CPU is Qualcomm Oryon built on a 4nm node with 12 cores and up to a 3.8GHz clock speed, jumping to 4.2GHz in a dual-core boost mode.

The Qualcomm Adreno GPU handles up to 4.6 TFLOPS with support for DirectX12, making it well-suited for Windows games. To compare, the Xbox Series S operates at 4 TFLOPS, though the current-gen Series X goes beyond 12 TFLOPS. The CPU supports up to 64GB of LPDDR5x RAM at an 8533MT/s transfer rate, and it handles M.2 PCIe 4.0 NVMe storage.

Most important, at least for those who are keeping up with the emerging world of AI PCs, is the Qualcomm Hexagon NPU capable of 45 TOPS for local AI acceleration. It easily beats the 10 TOPS and 16 TOPS provided, respectively, by Intel and AMD's current generation of NPUs. The X Elite SoC is touted as reaching 75 TOPS total with all components counted.

Here's a closer look at the specs of the flagship X Elite (X1E-84-100).

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Specs for the Snapdragon X Elite (X1E-84-100)
CPUQualcomm Oryon CPU, 64-bit architecture, 12 cores up to 3.8 GHz, single and dual-core boost, up to 4.3 GHz
GPUQualcomm Adreno GPU up to 4.6 TFLOPs, supports DX12
NPUQualcomm Hexagon NPU, 45 TOPs
MemoryLPDDR5x, 8533 MT/s transfer rate, up to 64GB, 136 GB/s bandwidth, 8 channels
StorageSD v3.0, NVME over PCIe Gen 4, UFS 4.0
DisplayQualcomm Adreno DPU, up to UHD 120Hz with HDR10
ConnectivitySnapdragon X65 5G Modem up to 10 Gbps, up to Wi-Fi 7, with Bluetooth LE 5.4
More featuresAV1 encoding, decoding ffor 4K HDR video, lossless sound with Snapdragon Sound Tech Suite, on-device generative AI at 30 tokens per second, "enterprise grade" security

The X1E-80-100 and X1E-78-100 variants offer the same 12 cores, 42MB cache, and 45 TOPS of NPU power, with LPDDR5x RAM support at a transfer rate of up to 8,448MT/s. However, the max clock speed tops out at 3.4GHz. The X1E-80-100 retains dual-core boost capabilities up to 4GHz, while the X1E-78-100 lacks any dual-core boost capabilities. GPU capabilities are also capped at a lower 3.8 TFLOPS.

Other standouts across the three platforms include 5G and Wi-Fi 7 wireless connectivity, support for three concurrent displays at 4K with 60Hz refresh rate, USB4 connectivity, and AV1 encoding and decoding for 4K HDR video. There's also a Micro NPU for a "Sensing Hub," used for always-on human presence detection.

There are reportedly nine PC makers creating Windows on Arm devices powered by the X Elite chips, altogether enabling a bit of a renaissance for the Windows on Arm platform. The first run of these Qualcomm-powered laptops is expected to launch in 2024.

The Snapdragon X platform is expected to encompass several different chips, including the Snapdragon X Plus (which I discuss more below), recently leaked via Geekbench results tied in with the upcoming Arm-powered Surface Pro 10.

ARM64 vs. x86-64

Microsoft's first-generation Surface Pro X still supports x86, x64, and Arm-native apps. (Image credit: Ben Wilson | Windows Central)

The Snapdragon X Elite is an ARM64 processor with an architecture that differs from the more common x86-64 (64-bit) processors offered by Intel and AMD. ARM architecture has been used in smartphones for decades, and it has been crossing over to PCs more recently. The Surface Pro 9 with 5G, for example, is a Windows on Arm laptop that runs a Microsoft SQ3 chip (based on Qualcomm's aging Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3).

Apps created for ARM64 can't be read by x64 systems, and vice-versa. However, thanks to emulation and app-makers creating versions compiled specifically for Arm, you shouldn't worry about getting your favorite software to run on a system powered by the Snapdragon X Elite.

Windows Central Editor Ben Wilson wrote a great PSA about ARM PCs and Windows 11 app compatibility, explaining the nuance of performance and behavior when running x86-64 apps on an ARM device. Bottom line? Windows on Arm has come a long way, and while there are some occasional hiccups, you shouldn't be discouraged from buying a laptop with the X Elite platform.

Qualcomm vs. Apple and Intel

Qualcomm came in hot after its initial X Elite announcement to show off some performance metrics compared to Apple and Intel. At an October 2023 Snapdragon Summit Keynote, Qualcomm's CEO Cristiano Amon discussed comparisons to Apple and Intel processors.

According to Amon, the Snapdragon X Elite (X1E-84-100) is faster in single-threaded performance with 30% less power consumption compared to the M2 Max. On Intel's side, the X Elite is fast in single-threaded performance and remains 70% more efficient than the Core i9-13980HX.

In a benchmarking session for reporters shortly after the keynote, it was clearly shown that Qualcomm wasn't bluffing about performance. You can see the results in the graphs below.

Apple didn't wait long to reveal its latest M3 processors as a counterpunch to Qualcomm's performance claims. Editor-in-Chief Daniel Rubino has an excellent breakdown of the Snapdragon X Elite vs. Apple M3 Pro performance, but to sum it up here, it looks like the Qualcomm processor is still going to best the M3 and nearly match the M3 Pro in multi-core performance.

Apple MacBooks (late 2023) up against Qualcomm's Snapdragon X Elite and Oryon processor using Geekbench 6. (Image credit: Future)

We're looking forward to directly testing the Snapdragon X Elite once its supporting laptops are released, as many factors at play can affect performance. It will also be interesting to test the real-world performance differences between the three X Elite SKUs. Nevertheless, the X Elite is shaping up to be an incredibly strong and efficient SoC.

How does the X Elite differ from the X Plus?

The Snapdragon X Elite and its three variants aren't the only chips expected from Qualcomm. As revealed on April 24, 2024, there's also a Snapdragon X Plus platform headed our way.

The X Plus (X1P-64-100) has a 10-core Oryon CPU capable of hitting a 3.4GHz clock speed, an Adreno GPU with 3.8 TFLOPS and DirectX12 support, and the same Hexagon NPU with 45 TOPS. It's nearly identical to the X Elite (X1E-78-100) — with the same lack of dual-core boost — except it has two fewer cores.

We've already known for a while that the new Surface Pro 10 (for regular consumers) and Surface Laptop 6 are expected to be revealed on May 20 at a Surface event, and they're expected to be Windows on Arm devices powered by a Snapdragon X chip.

While it's still expected that the new devices will run an X Elite chip, a recent leak showing a Surface Pro 10 running a 10-core Snapdragon X Plus SoC suggests we'll have more options than first expected in the upcoming Pro 10.

OEMs looking to offer more budget-friendly Arm PCs will also no doubt lean toward the X Plus SoC, reserving the X Elite for more premium devices where top performance is crucial. We will know more as Snapdragon X devices are finally revealed this year.

Cale Hunt

Cale Hunt brings to Windows Central more than eight years of experience writing about laptops, PCs, accessories, games, and beyond. If it runs Windows or in some way complements the hardware, there’s a good chance he knows about it, has written about it, or is already busy testing it.