Qualcomm is coming for Intel’s biggest market: PCs

Qualcomm (QCOM) is ramping up its efforts to win the AI PC race and heading for a collision course with Intel (INTC) and AMD (AMD), with the debut of its new Arm-based (ARM) Snapdragon X Plus chip for Windows-based laptops. The company previously announced its more powerful Snapdragon X Elite for Windows laptops in October.

The chips, which Qualcomm says will be available sometime in mid-2024, are designed to take on Intel’s latest Core Ultra line of chips as well as Apple’s M3 chip lineup.

The X Elite features a 12-core Oryon central processing unit (CPU), onboard Adreno graphics processing unit (GPU), and Qualcomm’s Hexagon neural processing unit (NPU). The X Plus packs a 10-core CPU, a built-in GPU, and a similar Hexagon NPU as the X Elite. The chips can also be outfitted with up to 64GB of memory.

Qualcomm is marketing both sets of chips as AI powerhouses, saying that they offer the world’s fastest NPUs for laptops, which allows for better overall performance while running local generative AI applications.

In most cases, generative AI apps run on large data center servers that you access via the web. That’s great up until you don’t have an internet connection. The idea behind local AI apps is that you’re able to use them without needing to be online and your data stays on your device rather than on the internet.

But so far, there haven’t been too many compelling onboard AI apps to get consumers running out the door to buy AI PCs. Despite that, the industry is banking heavily on the concept to help push sales throughout 2024. Intel, AMD, and Nvidia (NVDA) are marketing some of their high-end laptops as AI PCs.

Outside of their AI capabilities, Qualcomm claims the Arm-based X Elite and X Plus lines offer better performance per watt than the Intel Core Ultra 7 155H and AMD Ryzen 9 7940HS chips. The X Elite and X Plus also consume less power than competing Intel and AMD chips, Qualcomm says.

Qualcomm on Wednesday announced its latest chips designed to run on Windows laptops, taking aim at Intel and Nvidia. (Image: Qualcomm)

Qualcomm on Wednesday announced its latest chips designed to run on Windows laptops, taking aim at Intel and Nvidia. (Image: Qualcomm) (Qualcomm)

Qualcomm is even lining up the X Elite and X Plus against Apple’s Arm-based M3 chips, claiming that the processors are 28% and 10% faster than the iPhone maker’s offerings, respectively.

It’s important to note that these kinds of numbers are based on benchmarks, and real-world performance could differ.

This is just Qualcomm’s latest dive into the Windows PC market. The company already offers Arm-based chips for Windows systems but hasn’t gained much traction in the market. Part of the reason for that had to do with translating apps built for x86 systems that run on Intel and AMD chips to work on Arm-based platforms.

Over the years, however, more developers have reworked their apps to run on Arm-based chips making laptops running Qualcomm’s hardware a more viable option for consumers and enterprise users.

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Google’s Chrome, for example, was a major holdout for Windows on Arm devices for years but now runs natively on Arm systems. That should help to set up Qualcomm’s chips as legitimate threats to Intel and AMD.

We’ll need to see how the Elite X and Plus X actually run on laptops in the real world to determine if they’re truly able to go toe-to-toe with Intel, AMD, and Apple’s M3 chips. But if Qualcomm’s benchmark numbers hold true, the PC market could be in for some major upheaval.

Email Daniel Howley at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowley.

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