Qualcomm's 'extreme' Snapdragon 8cx processor for Windows 10 can handle dual 4K displays

Qualcomm Chip
Qualcomm Chip (Image credit: Qualcomm)

Qualcomm is doubling down on Windows 10 and its commitment to the always-connected PC (ACPC). At its Snapdragon Summit in Maui, Hawaii, the company announced the forthcoming Snapdragon 8cx, an all-new seven-nanometer (nm) processor that is the first of its kind and built for Windows 10 PCs only.

The new premium-tier processor should launch in the third quarter of 2019, according to Qualcomm. Packing its most potent GPU yet and twice the performance of the Snapdragon 850, the new Snapdragon 8cx may finally be the ARM processor to break into the PC mainstream.

What's new with Qualcomm Snapdragon 8cx?

The Snapdragon 8cx features the new Adreno 680 and Kyro 495 CPUs, which are significantly more potent than current Snapdragon processors for phones. With two times the performance increase over the last generation, Qualcomm claims a 60 percent greater power efficiency as well as giving devices the same multi-day battery life as the current Snapdragon 850.

There is also now an X24 LTE Category 20 modem with a top theoretical download speed of 2 Gbps and 316 Mbps upload.

Qualcomm promises more robust graphics performance with hardware acceleration and 4K HDR video playback at 120 frames per second for streaming. The GPU can also now support up to two external 4K HDR displays.

Here's a look at a spec sheet from Qualcomm:

Other changes include additional connectivity ports with second-generation USB 3.1 over Type C and third generation PCI-E allowing "limitless peripherals."

Storage is also getting a boost, as there is now support for faster NVMe solid-state drives (SSDs) instead of slower (but cheaper) eUFS 3.0.

There are enhanced voice assistant experiences for Alexa and Cortana from the Hexagon 685 DSP and new "All-Ways Aware technology." Artificial intelligence is also featured with Qualcomm's fourth-generation AI engine on board.

Rounding out the new features, there is now support for Bluetooth 5.0 and Qualcomm Quick Charge 4+ technology.

Alex Katouzian, senior vice president and general manager of mobile for Qualcomm Technologies, had this to say about the new processor:

As the fastest Snapdragon platform ever, the Snapdragon 8cx will allow our customers to offer a powerful computing experience of multi-day battery life and multi-gigabit connectivity, in new thin, light and fanless design for consumers and the enterprise.

Interestingly, the Snapdragon 8cx also brings the first Windows 10 Enterprise certification to a Snapdragon platform, which is critical for adoption by businesses who are interested in an always-connected PC platform.

What's with the name 8cx?

The "cx" in the Snapdragon 8cx name stands for "compute" and "extreme" because everything about this processor represents the most radical iteration of ARM from Qualcomm so far.

The new processor designation is purposeful as Qualcomm has built the CPU specifically for PCs and only PCs. Previously, Windows 10 on ARM devices used the Snapdragon 835, which was a straight port from phones, and the Snapdragon 850, an enhanced Snapdragon 845, also from phones.

The 8cx is a shift away from that even though the current Snapdragon 850 will continue to be used. The 8cx is a more powerful (and presumably expensive) tier of processors for higher-end devices. We're told Qualcomm has been working on the Snapdragon 8cx for the last few years.

What's real-world performance like?

While it is too early to benchmark the new Snapdragon 8cx, Qualcomm seems confident that its performance when running native Windows ARM applications and Windows 10 should rival that of an Intel Core i5 U-series processor.

In our previous tests, the Snapdragon 850 beat an Intel Core i5-6300U in multi-core scores and only slightly lagged in single-core benchmarks. Where things changed was during emulation of classic Win32 apps like Google Chrome, where scores fell between an Intel Atom and Intel Pentium processor.

Considering how much more powerful the Snapdragon 8cx is supposed to be, it should be able to handle much more, and powering dual-4K HDR displays is a stunning achievement for this class of device. Combined with ARM64 app support and Microsoft switching to a Chromium-based version of Edge, the Snapdragon 8cx should be an exciting processor solution to test.

Possible future Snapdragon-powered Windows PCs from Qualcomm's promo video.

Possible future Snapdragon-powered Windows PCs from Qualcomm's promo video.

As to what devices will utilize the new Snapdragon 8cx in 2019, we'll have to wait and see. However, Qualcomm seems to tease a few reference designs in its promo video (above) including a dual-screen 2-in-1 design and a new-style fold-out keyboard. With the higher price tier and performance boost, this may finally be the ARM processor that Microsoft commits to with a Surface tablet. Even if not, its partners are sure to have some unique and creative ideas.

Daniel Rubino