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Qualcomm announces the Snapdragon 8cx, an ‘extreme’ processor for Windows laptops

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The “X” stands for “extreme.” That’s what Qualcomm’s marketing department wants you to think about the new Snapdragon 8cx.

It’s a brand-new processor for always-connected Windows laptops and 2-in-1 convertible PCs, and and from Qualcomm’s perspective, it might seem a little extreme. Physically, it’s the largest processor the company has ever made, with the most powerful CPU and GPU Qualcomm has devised yet. Qualcomm says it’ll the first 7nm chip for a PC platform, beating Intel to the punch, and the biggest performance leap for a Snapdragon ever. The company’s promising “amazing battery life,” and up to 2Gbps cellular connectivity.

It’s the mobile chipmaker’s first purpose-built chip for Windows, instead of the tweaked smartphone chips it’s tried to squeeze into laptops before. “It’s a real PC, that can do real multitasking and productivity,” the company says.

Mind you, none of that necessarily means it’ll deliver “extreme” performance compared to rival laptop chips from Intel, Nvidia and AMD. We’re talking about laptops, not beefy gaming rigs. But this time, Qualcomm may have finally wrung enough power from its silicon to build a competent portable PC.

When it comes to graphics, Qualcomm says its new Adreno 680 Extreme GPU in the 8cx is twice as fast as the one in its previous Snapdragon 850 for Windows laptops — the one in Samsung’s recently-released Galaxy Book 2 and the Lenovo C630 WOS — and 60 percent more power efficient than that chip to boot. It can also support two 4K external monitors simultaneously, up from just one monitor before.

On the CPU side of things, Qualcomm claims its 8cx has performance comparable to a 15-watt Intel U-series processor, the same type you’ll find in most of today’s thin-and-light Windows machines. Except Qualcomm’s chip will draw less than half the electricity — just 7 watts. And if you compare against Intel own 7-watt Y-series processor, like the onein Apple’s new MacBook Air, Qualcomm believes its processor is 50 percent faster — though it wouldn’t tell us which benchmarks it used to generate those numbers.

Part of that’s because it’s the first 7nm PC chip yet made. With smaller circuits than Intel, Qualcomm can theoretically choose to get more performance or more battery life from that extra efficiency, and it seems to have chosen performance here.

But maybe the biggest deal here is that Snapdragon might finally have enough memory to power Windows properly.A mere 4GB in the Galaxy Book 2 felt pretty limiting, enough that a dozen Chrome browser tabs felt like too much to handle. But the Snapdragon 8cx will support up to 16GB of LPDDR4x RAM, with greater bandwidth, as well as speedier NVMe solid state drives — though some manufacturers may still opt for slower storage.

And of course, we’re talking about laptops that’ll likely come with built-in cellular connectivity — it’s a Snapdragon, after all! But you might be surprised to learn this Snapdragon won’t come with built-in 5G, and it doesn’t support Qualcomm’s X50 5G modem either. But that’s no big loss right now, and Qualcomm says it’ll have a 5G solution later. In the meanwhile, it’s got Qualcomm’s new X24 LTE modem baked in for (theoretical maximum) 2Gbps speeds.

Qualcomm says battery life will be comparable to the Snapdragon 850, which is good — our Galaxy Book 2 review showed us that a Snapdragon laptop can easily last all day. It’ll also support USB-C quick charging using Qualcomm Quick Charge 4+.

We’re learning more about this chip right now, live from Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Technology Summit in Maui. Refresh for additional details.

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