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Qualcomm Claims the Transition of PCs to Arm Is "Inevitable"

Qualcomm
(Image credit: Cool3c.com)

Qualcomm on Tuesday said that its upcoming Snapdragon system-on-chips (SoCs) for PCs that are set to include Arm cores designed by the Nuvia team will set the performance and efficiency benchmark for Windows PCs and challenge processors from Apple and Intel. The new SoCs are set be sampled with PC makers in August 2022 and will be launched commercially in 2023.

Qualcomm has been offering its Snapdragon platforms for notebooks since 2017 and has done a lot of work enabling the Windows-on-Arm ecosystem together with Microsoft. But despite all its efforts, it has not gained any significant market share. That's partly because not all Windows programs work perfectly on Arm-based systems, and partly because the performance Qualcomm's platforms offer is lower compared to x86 platforms as well — not to mention Apple's Arm-powered machines. Qualcomm hopes that the $1.4 billion acquisition of Nuvia, its design team, and microarchitectures will finally make it a stronger player on the PC market.

Up until now, Qualcomm essentially offered beefed up versions of its smartphone-oriented Snapdragon SoCs to PC makers. That's a viable strategy to address a specific segment of the market, but it's not good enough to compete against products from Apple, AMD, and Intel. With its next-generation Snapdragon for PCs, the company will offer SoCs designed specifically for PCs from the ground up. Qualcomm said the custom Nuvia CPU cores will be tailored for personal computer workloads and the Adreno GPU will be scaled to the level of standalone graphics processing units. It did not elaborate on how precisely it will do this.

Building a comprehensive integrated GPU could be more challenging than building a high-performance CPU core. Qualcomm's Adreno team includes loads of engineers from ATI Technologies and AMD who have experience with building high-end discrete graphics processors. However, these GPUs tend to be large and power hungry, and SoC developers have to come up with solutions that offer a balance between performance, die size, and power.

For example, Apple's M1 Max has an integrated GPU that offers performance sometimes akin to that of Nvidia's mobile GeForce RTX 3060. That's a good result, particularly for an integrated solution, but it's not consistent. In some tests, we've seen performance that's closer to half of what you'd get from a desktop 3060. Either way, there are also users who demand something faster.

Qualcomm's message essentially says that with its upcoming Snapdragon generations, it will bifurcate its mobile and PC SoC development in a bid to deliver the best hardware possible. The company still stresses that Nuvia microarchitectures will be opportunistically extended to mobile, automotive, and data centers, so at some point Nuvia's technologies could be used for smartphones, but for now the plan is to build a high-performance client PC SoC that will defeat or at least challenge offerings from Apple, AMD, and Intel.

Qualcomm expects to deliver the first samples of its next-generation Snapdragon SoC for notebooks with Nuvia general-purpose CPU cores next August and release it commercially in 2023, the company said at its Investor Day 2021 summit. It has not yet indicated what process node the chips will use, but a 5nm class design seems likely.

  • King_V
    If they can really do it, at a competitive level, and pull of excellent power efficiency as well, then I think this would be a welcome shift in the market.

    On the other hand, I wonder - is it difficult to compile an extra version of any and all software? I mean, as it is, I see we had 32 and 64 bit versions of a lot of things for Windows, even today with drivers, though it seems 32 bit overall is finally falling by the wayside.

    Will having an additional one, ARM, be a huge problem?
    Reply
  • InvalidError
    King_V said:
    On the other hand, I wonder - is it difficult to compile an extra version of any and all software? I mean, as it is, I see we had 32 and 64 bit versions of a lot of things for Windows, even today with drivers, though it seems 32 bit overall is finally falling by the wayside.
    How difficult it is depends on how much of your code base including dependencies requires bitness-awareness and endian-awareness for things like handling hard-coded binary structures that isn't already coded-in.

    Or you can write in C# and equivalents where code gets locally re-compiled and let the runtime sort out platform-specific stuff.
    Reply
  • spongiemaster
    Uh huh. Should coincide with the inevitable Linux on the desktop take over we have been hearing about for over 20 years.
    Reply
  • chulak
    spongiemaster said:
    Uh huh. Should coincide with the inevitable Linux on the desktop take over we have been hearing about for over 20 years.

    Lol! My exact sentiment
    Reply
  • techconc
    spongiemaster said:
    Uh huh. Should coincide with the inevitable Linux on the desktop take over we have been hearing about for over 20 years.

    The failure of Linux on the desktop was completely predictable. I said it would fail for obvious reasons. Its biggest strength was also its biggest weakness. Customization is great, but when you have no standards, it's tough to get developers to support it properly.

    The fact is, the industry really has no choice. Apple is absolutely crushing it on performance / watt and their M1 / M1 Pro / M1 Max chips make for far more compelling laptops than ANYTHING Intel based. Intel doesn't have an answer for this. They can match performance, but at huge energy costs. Nobody wants a laptop that has to be plugged in to run properly and that has fans like a turbojet. Microsoft sees the writing on the wall and clearly Qualcomm does too.
    Reply
  • King_V
    InvalidError said:
    How difficult it is depends on how much of your code base including dependencies requires bitness-awareness and endian-awareness for things like handling hard-coded binary structures that isn't already coded-in.

    Or you can write in C# and equivalents where code gets locally re-compiled and let the runtime sort out platform-specific stuff.
    I was under the impression that, at the PC level, hardware-specific coding was a thing of the past, and that everything is done at higher level languages. Er, well, higher than assembly, at the least.
    Reply
  • USAFRet
    King_V said:
    I was under the impression that, at the PC level, hardware-specific coding was a thing of the past, and that everything is done at higher level languages. Er, well, higher than assembly, at the least.
    Witness the evident performance difference between Intel and AMD on Win 11.
    Reply
  • InvalidError
    King_V said:
    I was under the impression that, at the PC level, hardware-specific coding was a thing of the past, and that everything is done at higher level languages.
    If you are writing cross-platform stuff using binary structures for storage and networking, the onus has always been and still is on you / the programmer to ensure consistent byte ordering and structure sizes between platforms.
    Reply
  • Nolonar
    spongiemaster said:
    Uh huh. Should coincide with the inevitable Linux on the desktop take over we have been hearing about for over 20 years.
    Given what Apple has achieved with the M1 (Pro/Max), I don't think this is as unlikely as Linux dominating the PC market.
    Reply
  • maik80
    They're going to steal Apple's technology through Nuvia, and Apple has already said that if it violates any of its designers they'll take it to court.
    Reply