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.