Intel is under assault. Its long-running tenure as the king of computing CPUs is being shaken at its foundation with hot new competition from AMD in the desktop space and now Qualcomm in the mobile arena. Funnily enough, it’s happening in similar fashion, too. Where AMD’s Ryzen chips pushed core counts to counter Intel’s strength in single-threaded tasks, Qualcomm is bringing its mobile-oriented octacore Snapdragon chips to laptops and tablets with decent onboard graphics. The 8cx is the latest attempt to topple Intel from its processing throne.
Qualcomm might be a contender in the mobile space, but Always Connected Windows laptops powered by Snapdragon 835 and 850 chips have seen mixed results. Perhaps its new Snapdragon 8cx can prove more capable. To find out, we’ve pitted the Snapdragon 8cx versus the Core i5 Intel CPUs to see how they compare.
Both Intel’s and Qualcomm’s chips combine CPU and GPU cores on a single die, so we’ll look at the performance of each segment of the chips individually and consider their cost and efficiency too.
The Snapdragon 8cx sports Qualcomm’s latest generation Kryo 495 octacore CPU. That means it has eight cores to work with, four of which will be lower-power and operate when efficiency is more important than performance. In comparison, Intel’s mobile Core i5 CPUs tend to offer two or four cores, sometimes with support for double the number of threads using its hyperthreading technology.
Qualcomm’s new chip is based on a 7nm process — a node that has seen AMD make big gains with its desktop chips. Intel is still mostly focused on 14nm, but does have a handful of new, 10nm-equipped laptops using its new Ice Lake generation of CPUs.
While we don’t exactly know how Qualcomm’s 8cx will compare to new Ice Lake CPUs, we do know how well it does against an Intel Core i5-8250U CPU. Teaming up with UL Benchmarks (formerly Futuremark), Qualcomm delivered some performance results for a new version of PCMark at Computex 2019, showing us just how well its new 8cx stacks up against a popular Intel mobile CPU.
In an application benchmark that looks at performance in Microsoft Office applications and its Edge browser, the Snapdragon 8cx pulled ahead of the Intel chip in PowerPoint, Word, and Edge. It fell noticeably behind in Excel by more than 10 percent, but in the other tests it had an impressive lead of between three and 16 percent. That’s doubly impressive, because the ARM CPU was technically emulating Office, rather than running it natively, as Windows Central highlights.
NotebookCheck lists the Snapdragon 8cx as having a clock speed of 2.84 GHz. That’s lower than we typically see with Intel chips. The 8250U in the above tests runs at 3.4GHz. That doesn’t necessarily mean the 8cx will be slower though. With more cores and threads, and the potential for a higher instructions per clock, it may be competitive. This may result in a similar performance comparison to Intel’s Core i5 against AMD’s last-generation Ryzen CPUs. In that race, Intel excels in single-threaded tasks but offers more comparable performance in multi-threaded scenarios. That may have been evidenced during a graphics test at Computex, which saw the Intel 8250U maintain a greater CPU score than the Snapdragon part, despite seemingly weaker performance in more productivity-focused tasks.
With Snapdragon 8cx laptops now starting to ship — starting with the Samsung Galaxy Book S — we don’t have long to wait to find out for sure how well the new Snapdragon SoC performs.
Intel’s HD graphics aren’t known to be fantastically powerful, nor do they offer credible competition for what we could consider budget graphics cards like the Nvidia GTX 1050, but they are passable. They allow users to do some gaming, and if Qualcomm’s new Adreno 680 core can offer that, it might not matter if it doesn’t do much more.
Unfortunately, we don’t know the clock speed of the 8cx’s new GPU core, but Qualcomm has given us some details to extrapolate a speculative idea of its performance potential. The Adreno 680 GPU core is said to be the fastest GPU Qualcomm has ever produced, with up to twice the performance and 60 percent greater power efficiency than the Snapdragon 850. It also supports the latest DirectX12 API.
In graphics tests performed at Computex 2019 against the Intel 8250U with its onboard Intel UHD 620 graphics core, the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8cx performed favorably. In the PCMark 10 Night Raid benchmark it achieved a graphics score as high as 6,266, while the Intel chip was only able to achieve a score of 5,831. That’s a more than 20 percent uplift in performance for the Snapdragon SoC and equates to a difference of 29 FPS for the Intel chip (at best), versus the Snapdragon’s 37 FPS.
These are impressive results that suggest the Snapdragon 8cx will be a solid gaming chip for entry-level and indie titles. It may find stiffer competition with Intel’s Iris Plus graphics that are onboard the new Ice Lake CPUs, though. Some Intel Core i5 CPUs will still sport older, UHD graphics, and could be easier to defeat.
One of the concerns with Microsoft’s “Always Connected” PC style is the lack of native applications for the Qualcomm hardware under the hood. Although the two companies have built emulation that allows x86 applications to run on the platforms, that’s not ideal, as it does require some processing power to perform the translation.
That said, the Electron cross-platform app development system is currently integrating Windows on ARM support and is expected to finalize it as soon as June. That brings popular apps like Slack, Discord, Microsoft Teams, and Spotify into the fold of native ARM applications, which could lead to a great increase in performance on Qualcomm chips. Unity is also said to be adding native ARM support, potentially leading to far greater game support on Snapdragon SoCs like the 8cx.
There are still some missing applications, most notably browsers like Google’s Chrome and Mozilla’s Firefox, though Qualcomm promised that such apps will be ported to the platform in the near future. Microsoft and Google had reportedly been working on Chrome for ARM as of late 2018. More recent attempts to compile Chrome in Chromium make an official launch from Google feel imminent. The recent addition of 64-bit app support should help fill any glaring voids in the software lineup too.
Cost and efficiency
The big selling points of the existing Always Connected line of products are efficiency and connectivity. Qualcomm has talked up efficiency gains for the Snapdragon 8cx, suggesting it could even deliver “multi-day” battery life in some products. That would be an improvement even upon the extensive battery life seen in solid entries like the HP Envy x2, and perhaps see 8cx-equipped laptops offering greater battery life than industry leaders like the Surface Book 2.
The first 8cx-equipped laptop, the Galaxy Book S, is said to have a battery life as long as 23 hours. That’s something quite special. Even if it merely approaches such numbers in real-world testing, we’ll be happy.
Battery life comparisons with Intel’s i5-8250U CPU at Computex 2019 saw the Snapdragon beat it handily, lasting nearly 20 hours during a video loop test, while the Intel equipped laptop managed just 12 hours. However, it’s important to note that the Intel laptop was running a screen at 2K, where the Snapdragon-equipped one was limited to 1080p. This isn’t a conclusive test, especially when we consider new Intel Ice Lake chips and their improved efficiency, but it does suggest that a Snapdragon 8cx laptop would be very efficient and offer great battery life.
Competing on cost will be a little more difficult, though not impossible. Existing Always Connected PCs, like the aforementioned HP Envy x2, sell for as much as $1,000 with the Snapdragon 835, 4GB of RAM and a 12.3-inch display. Prices have come down as of late, though, making it much more competitive with the likes of the standard Envy in sales. The Galaxy Book S costs $1,000 with the Snapdragon 8cx, so it’s not totally unreasonable; especially if features and performance hold up.
Qualcomm is a serious competitor, but Ice Lake looms
Qualcomm’s 8cx is shaping up to be an impressive SoC with strong performance in general computing and graphics, as well as decent battery life. It may well compete favorably with Intel’s older CPUs and may even face off well with AMD’s latest Ryzen APUs. But we don’t yet know what it can do when compared to the latest and greatest, like Intel’s new Ice Lake processors.
We’ll want to see more benchmarks and third-party testing before we can say for sure how strong the 8cx will perform in the wild, but we’re not far away from its release and products sporting it from doing the same. The first have now started shipping, with the earliest arrivals expected at the start of September.