What you need to know
- The Snapdragon 8cx got benchmarked against the Intel Core i5-8250U.
- The 8cx chip often beats a Core i5 in performance, nearly doubles battery life.
- Press were invited to run the benchmarks themselves to validate.
- Electron and Unity game engine are going native ARM too.
The forthcoming Qualcomm Snapdragon 8cx processor built for Windows 10 is getting a little more real. Today at Computex 2019 in Taipei, Taiwan the ARM chip manufacturer put its latest Windows 10 custom 8cx processor up against an Intel Core i5 demonstrating just how powerful it is while also delivering nearly double the battery life.
Qualcomm teamed up with UL (formerly known as Futuremark) for a new PCMark10 benchmark that lets reviewers compare an ARM chip like the Snapdragon 8cx with a traditional x86 Intel platform under equal environments. The test was released a few months ago in PCMark10 along with the new Night Raid graphics test, but up until now, we have not seen the 8cx matched up against an Intel Core i5.
Additionally, UL announced a new app-test that more closely reflects how people use computers daily. UL described the new tests as real-world and not synthetic in that test runs apps from the Microsoft Store, including Microsoft Office (Word, PowerPoint, Excel) to simulate "common scenarios and workloads."
There's also a new battery test that that uses the same apps from the performance test as well as looping full HD video playback and idle screen time to give a robust picture of how battery performance can hold up on laptops.
Press who attended the private Qualcomm event were invited to run the benchmarks themselves to test out the Snapdragon 8cx, which is expected to be released in the coming months in new laptops and convertible PCs.
Positioned against the 8th generation Intel Core i5-8250U with a max turbo frequency of 3.40 GHz the Snapdragon 8cx did quite well, often beating the Core i5 in PowerPoint, Word, and Edge browser usage.
Interestingly, Microsoft Office is not natively compiled for ARM and technically runs emulated, meaning the Snapdragon 8cx was actually at a disadvantage.
Similar results were found with the PCMark10 Night Raid graphics test with the Snapdragon 8cx edging out frames-per-second - 37.10 FPS versus 29.47 FPS.
Battery tests comparing app usage with the Snapdragon 8cx to the Core i5-8250U resulted in the ARM chip lasting 17 hours at the upper limit with the Intel processor behind at just 10 hours and 21 minutes. That said, the Snapdragon laptop was running at full HD while the Intel one was 2K, which is a bit unfair though it would not explain the nearly 7-hour difference either.
Lets game on ARM
Electron, Unity go ARM too
Electron - the cross-platform app development system - is also going to support Windows on ARM sometime in June. That's good news for those who run popular apps like Slack, Discord, Microsoft Teams, and Spotify as it means their performance will be significantly better than the current emulated method for non-ARM apps. Those apps will have to be recompiled for ARM, but the process is expected to be trivial. When those app developers feel confident, they will update those apps in the Microsoft Store for users to download.
Likewise, Unity, the widely used game engine, is also being recompiled for ARM. A working version of Unity's test demo was shown to press with framerates averaging 50 frames-per-second. Once Unity is native people using Windows 10 on ARM should be able to get many more games that run similar to Intel-based PCs.
We also got our first peek at Microsoft's new Edge browser based on Chromium compiled for ARM. While no date was revealed for its release, we were told that by the end of the year is likely for people to begin testing in the Canary ring.
The ecosystem is growing
Windows on ARM takeaway
Overall, the 7nm Snapdragon 8cx looks to be quite a jump from the current Snapdragon 850. That said, the 8cx is not replacing the Snapdragon 850, but rather is a new, higher-tier processor for presumably more expensive laptops. Qualcomm though, seems to have the advantage for battery life while also beating out what is one of the most commonly found Intel processors in modern Ultrabook PCs.
No new devices with the Snapdragon 8cx were revealed yet at Computex meaning we could still be a few months from such a launch. However, Lenovo and Qualcomm did show a working prototype 5G laptop using the Snapdragon 8cx and X55 modem under the name "Project Limitless" that is due in early 2020.
In the meantime, Intel is expected to finally jump from 14nm to 10nm for its U-series processors this year meaning Intel could still get the upper advantage. Regardless, competition in microprocessors is always a good thing for consumers including AMD, and Qualcomm seems to be providing the right kick to Intel's long overdue transition to 10nm.
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Daniel Rubino is the Editor-in-chief of Windows Central, head reviewer, podcast co-host, and analyst. He has been covering Microsoft since 2007 when this site was called WMExperts (and later Windows Phone Central). His interests include Windows, laptops, next-gen computing, and for some reason, watches. Before all this tech stuff, he worked on a Ph.D. in linguistics, watched people sleep (for medical purposes!), and ran the projectors at movie theaters because it was fun.