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Qualcomm just made some bold claims about gaming on ARM PCs

A laptop and a camera on a table with a Qualcomm logo on the screen.

Qualcomm shared an exciting teaser during the 2024 Game Developers Conference (GDC), hinting that the PC gaming market might not be so limited to x86 architecture going forward. The company spoke during a session titled “Windows on Snapdragon, a Platform Ready for Your PC Games,” and it claimed that Windows games will simply work on laptops equipped with the latest Snapdragon X Elite chip — no extra prep required — all thanks to emulation.

As reported by The Verge, Qualcomm’s engineer Issam Khalil discussed how the company hopes to achieve realistic gaming on its ARM-based chip as early as May this year. Khalil explained the ins and outs of x86/64 emulation on Snapdragon X Elite, explaining that game devs will be able to port their titles to native ARM64 for the best performance, but they can also do “next to nothing” — the game should just work anyway due to x64 emulation.

The third option is to create a hybrid ARM64EC app that makes Windows, Windows libraries, and Qualcomm’s drivers run natively. However, the rest of the app is emulated.

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According to Khalil, game devs won’t need to change the code for their games to perform as intended on the Snapdragon X Elite system-on-a-chip (SoC). This is because most games are impacted by the graphics card more than they are by the processor, and Qualcomm claims that GPU performance will be unaffected by the emulation.

Qualcomm has reportedly been testing most of the top games on Steam to make sure that they’ll work through emulation in preparation for the big day. However, this development isn’t without its challenges. Performance is one thing. Micah Knapp, Qualcomm’s senior director of product management, told The Verge that he’s seen ARM run games faster than x86 chips, and he’s seen them run games while providing better battery life, but never simultaneously.

Snapdragon's X Elite PC SoC.

Qualcomm’s presentation also mentions an important caveat — there appears to be a lack of compatibility with games that use a kernel driver, which is common in titles with anti-cheat systems. The same applies to games that use AVX instruction sets.

We’ve already seen early benchmarks of the Qualcomm Snapdragon X Elite, and its performance is highly promising — especially in light of these new developments. The chip is said to come with a GPU that’s as powerful as the integrated graphics found in Intel’s new Core Ultra laptop CPUs.

Meanwhile, Tom’s Hardware speculates that popular Windows titles like Baldur’s Gate 3 should perform on a similar level to AMD’s Radeon 780M GPU when running on a Snapdragon X Elite laptop. If Qualcomm can indeed achieve this type of gaming performance without requiring any extra work from game developers, we might be about to see a rise in ARM gaming.

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Monica J. White
Monica is a UK-based freelance writer and self-proclaimed geek. A firm believer in the "PC building is just like expensive…
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