Qualcomm’s second-gen Snapdragon 8cx laptop chip is good but still falls flat

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Qualcomm's latest laptop chip is good but not great.
Image: Qualcomm

For many years, the laptop chip industry was dominated by a few major players. Today, the landscape is looking a bit different. Apple, for instance, is designing in-house silicon for its Mac computers. Meanwhile, Qualcomm, one of the biggest players in the mobile chip market, is trying to break into the laptop space.

It made its first major push into the sector last year when it released the Snapdragon 8cx—a dedicated laptop chip. Now, Qualcomm is announcing the Snapdragon 8cx Gen 2. The new chip offers modern features like support for 5G and improved security. However, it leaves something to be desired in terms of performance.

Plenty of Good

Qualcomm’s latest laptop is by no means a bad processor. In fact, the Snapdragon 8cx is a very capable chip that is worthy of a place in the market in 2020. Adding support for things like 5G comes at a perfect time as the new network is poised to erupt over the next few years.

The Snapdragon 8cx supports both sub-6GHz and mmWave 5G. That’s noteworthy because not all carriers will offer connectivity for both types—at least in the short-term. Meanwhile, the new chip also supports Wi-Fi 6, the latest protocol for non-cellular internet connectivity.

All of these features make the Snapdragon 8cx an ideal chip for devices that focus on mobile productivity and will appeal to consumers who frequently jump between different networks. The Acer Spin 7, an upcoming 2-in-1 laptop that is the first to feature the Snapdragon 8cx, is a prime example.

Qualcomm is also highlighting the new chip’s enhanced artificial intelligence (AI) features. The chipmaker says that, thanks to its AI Engine, the Snapdragon 8cx will provide efficient performance for things like “stronger video conferencing interactions through tools such as accelerated eye contact and expressive avatars.”

Still, not many consumers will buy a new laptop just to have a digital avatar with good facial expressions.

As for security, Qualcomm says that the second-generation Snapdragon 8cx has improved features for “enterprises, small businesses, and education.”

The Downside

Although the new Snapdragon chip is capable, its performance won’t win any awards. Aside from the new 5G and AI features, the second-gen processor is essentially the same as the one that Qualcomm released last year.

Considering that the original 8cx wasn’t particularly fast this could be a major concern for the updated chip.

Another worrying area for the new 8cx is the fact that ARM-based Windows machines are still pretty rare. That means app developers don’t want to waste time and money to optimize their software for ARM 64.

Although there is only so much that Qualcomm can do about this poor compatibility, the fact that the Snapdragon 8cx isn’t particularly fast doesn’t help the situation. If the chip had better performance, it could sidestep some of these shortcomings with sheer power. Sadly, that isn’t the case.

Intel still leads the way in the laptop chip sector. However, AMD and Apple are both making significant strides to close that gap. Qualcomm’s latest chip, on the other hand, seems to be treading water.

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