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Qualcomm’s push against Intel worked, and we’re all reaping the benefits

The idea of a processor company truly challenging Intel still feels far-fetched. Despite the repeated security mistakes and executive switch-ups, Intel has an almost unshakable reputation in the eyes of both manufacturers and everyday people. We see Intel, and we buy.

But if the Intel’s most recent set of chips is any indication, Qualcomm recent run of PCs has caught the attention of the Intel empire. For the first time in a long time, Intel was forced to play catch up.

Catching up on battery life

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We were rightfully skeptical when Qualcomm announced its big push into the PC space last fall. Despite the experience the company had in the mobile space, powering a PC running Windows 10 was a different ballgame. We assumed the Qualcomm processors would struggle to offer a smooth experience, that that assumption proved true — but Qualcomm managed to pull off things Intel couldn’t.

Let’s start with battery life. This is a common pain point for laptops, and despite the push for all-day battery led by Apple a few years back, there hasn’t been much  forward momentum since. Then came the three laptops powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845, each claiming twenty hours of battery life.

The battery doesn’t last that long in the real world (manufacture estimates are always a stretch),  but we were pleasantly surprised all the same. The Asus NovaGo, the most affordable of the trio, lasted over 15 hours in video playback, and over 10 and a half hours in web browsing. That’s not 20 hours, but it still beats the snot out a typical Intel-powered laptop running Windows 10.

Now, Intel has made that same push for battery life. Laptops announced this week at IFA with Intel’s new Core processors feature similar claims of around twenty hours of battery life. Outside of the Surface Book 2 (which had the bonus of an extra battery built into the display), we’ve never seen an Intel-powered PC with that kind of battery life. 

Tearing down the walls of connectivity

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Connectivity is the second big innovation in Qualcomm-powered PCs. As you might expect given its roots in smartphone hardware, laptops with Qualcomm processors come with 4G LTE by default. While they aren’t the first laptops to feature this kind of connectivity, it was uncommon and sold at a hefty premium. These Qualcomm PCs are affordable, mainstream devices that can be used anywhere you’d use a smartphone.

Intel is making a similar push in connectivity with its chips. Laptops powered by Intel’s new round of U-Series processors feature Gigabit Wi-Fi. According to Intel, this will let people “download their favorite shows and movies in under a minute, create, edit, and share 4K/360 video content 6.5x faster, and stream and play games, including World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth and World of Tanks.”

The Y-Series processors, which are being implemented in lighter, more portable laptops like the 12-inch MacBook and XPS 13 2-in-1, go a step further. These processors will come with built-in 4G LTE, just like the Qualcomm devices. We just may see a LTE-enabled MacBook before the end of the year, for all we know.

That’s proof Intel is paying careful attention to its new rival, and adjusting accordingly. We even know Microsoft had every intention of making its Surface Go 2-in-1 into a Qualcomm device before Intel stepped in. 

Which begs the question…would we have ever seen this push from Intel, if Qualcomm hadn’t done it first? We may never know the answer. For now, let’s enjoy the benefits of some good, old-fashioned competition.

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Luke Larsen
Luke Larsen is the Senior editor of computing, managing all content covering laptops, monitors, PC hardware, Macs, and more.
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