Qualcomm Snapdragon X Elite and Oryon CPU Aim to Disrupt the PC Market

Qualcomm Snapdragon X Elite and Oryon CPU Aim to Disrupt the PC Market

The News: At its annual Snapdragon Summit, Qualcomm announced the most powerful computing processor it has ever created for the PC: Snapdragon X Elite. According to Qualcomm, this groundbreaking platform ushers in a new era of premium computing by delivering a massive leap forward with best-in-class CPU performance, leading on-device AI inferencing, and one of the most efficient processors in a PC with up to multiple days of battery life.

As AI transforms how PC users interact with their devices, Snapdragon X Elite is designed to support the intelligent and power-intensive tasks of the future that will enable powerful productivity, rich creativity, and immersive entertainment experiences from anywhere. Snapdragon X Elite, which features Qualcomm’s new custom integrated Oryon CPU, is Qualcomm’s gambit to go head-to-head with x86 and Arm-based competitors such as Apple’s M2 Max, particularly in the enterprise. Read more about the announcement and features on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon X Elite platform overview page.

Qualcomm Snapdragon X Elite and Oryon CPU Aim to Disrupt the PC Market

Analyst Take: Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon X Elite platform does not just represent a significant milestone (and opportunity) for the company. It is also potentially a disruption milestone for the PC market as a whole, especially as x86’s long-term relevance against Arm-based platforms grows into a bigger question mark.

Do not get me wrong: x86 still enjoys a successful and robust incumbency in the enterprise market, and I do not see the mighty x86 being dethroned anytime soon. That said, Arm-based PC platforms have been ramping up performance and power efficiency pressure on Intel lately. Growing demand for PCs with the processing chops to handle thermally expensive on-device generative AI applications such as Windows Studio Effects and many other AI- accelerated applications in thin, portable form factors with all-day (and even multiday) battery life is growing, and Apple has already been leveraging that opportunity and its total cost of ownership (TCO) benefits to its advantage, as evidenced by its growing share of the enterprise market. There is a fork in the road here, and both Qualcomm and Apple aim to capitalize on it to challenge Intel’s incumbent advantage in the PC chipset market.

Qualcomm Takes on Intel and Apple with Its New Snapdragon X Elite PC Platform and Custom Oryon CPU

At its core, the case against x86 PCs in the hybrid work era boils down to a few key points: 1) The need for thinner, lighter, more portable, quiet (preferably fanless) form factors; 2) the need for aggressively power-efficient PCs; and 3) the need for PCs designed specifically for on-device AI and AI-enhanced features.

Enter Qualcomm’s Snapdragon X Elite, with its 4 nm SOC architecture, custom integrated 12-core Oryon CPU, Adreno graphics processing unit (GPU) and AI Engine (with integrated Qualcomm Hexagon NPU), and dual core boost feature. The SOC is reportedly capable of delivering up to 2x faster CPU performance than its competitors, matches competitor peak performance at only one-third of the power, and reportedly sports 4.5x faster AI processing power as well. For context, Snapdragon X Elite can run generative AI models with over 13 billion parameters right on the device at blazing-fast speeds. Its dual-core boost feature can also optimize demanding workloads

In case there is any question as to which market segments Qualcomm is going after, the chipmaker took direct aim at Apple and Intel’s M2 Max and i9-13980Hx at its Snapdragon Summit, bringing benchmarking data to make its case: Snapdragon X Elite reportedly outperformed the M2 Max in single threaded performance and matched its peak performance at 30% less power consumption, and beat the i9-13980Hx in single threaded performance and matched peak performance at 70% less power consumption. Bold but necessary given how much ground Qualcomm needs to cover, and fast, if it wants to capitalize on this window of opportunity. As a relatively new entrant in the PC space, Qualcomm is facing challenging odds in terms of market share acquisition against Intel and Apple. Good to see an aggressive approach right out of the gate. I expect that PC OEMs, especially looking into the viability of Windows on Arm, are already paying attention.

The premium integrated Adreno GPU and its AI Engine (with integrated Qualcomm Hexagon neural processing unit [NPU]) round out the main ingredients of the SOC’s power-efficient graphics and AI secret sauce. The platform also includes an updated Micro NPU inside the ultra-low power Sensing Hub for enhanced security, privacy, and login user experience (UX).

5G Connectivity on PC: A Long Overdue Feature in the Era of Hybrid Work

Another advantage of the Snapdragon X Elite PC platform is that it organically folds mobile features into the PC experiences, namely 5G connectivity in addition to Wi-Fi 7. It also features HBS Multi-Link for seamless, jitter-free cloud connectivity, Snapdragon Seamless to facilitate switching between devices on the fly, and immersive lossless audio with the Snapdragon Sound technology suite.

LTE and 5G connectivity have always seemed like a no-brainer for laptops, whose point, after all, is to allow users to work from anywhere. To its credit, Qualcomm has been working to make always-connected (AC) and 5G PCs happen for several years now, with mixed results. The main hurdles to adoption have not been technical or component cost-related, by the way. Carriers just have not really met PC OEMs halfway by making cellular service plans for PCs affordable enough, let alone coherent. I expect that will change as adoption of 5G PCs finally begins to scale. There is, after all, a good value story there. For starters, it makes no sense for laptops to still be entirely dependent on Wi-Fi networks or mobile hotspots in 2023 (almost 2024). In the era of mobile computing and hybrid work, laptops need to be able to connect to cloud services no matter where they are, not just whenever they are within range of an accessible Wi-Fi network. Second, because cellular networks are significantly more secure than public Wi-Fi networks, every technology user and IT manager should be pushing for laptops to be LTE and 5G capable. Snapdragon X Elite’s cellular connectivity feature is therefore both a productivity value-add and a security value-add for consumers and enterprise users.

Key Specs

  • Qualcomm Oryon CPU (64-bit architecture; 12 cores, up to 3.8 GHz; Single and Dual-Core Boost, up to 4.3 GHz)
  • Qualcomm Adreno GPU (up to 4.6 TFLOPs; API support: DX12)
  • Qualcomm Hexagon NPU (45 TOPs); Dual Micro NPU (on sensing Hub)
  • Memory Type: LPDDR5x (transfer rate: 8533 MT/s, capacity: up to 64 GB, bandwidth: 136 GB/s, bit width: 16-bit, number of channels: 8); storage: SD v3.0 (SSD/NVMe), interface: NVMe SSD over PCIe, Gen 4, UFS 4.0, process node: 4 nm
  • On the display side, Snapdragon X Elite supports Qualcomm’s Adreno DPU (max on-device display resolution: eDP v1.4b, up to UHD120 HDR10; max external display resolution: DP v1.4 – 3 displays, up to UHD60 HDR10, two displays 5K60); the video processing unit (VPU) is Qualcomm’s Adreno VPU
  • Camera-wise, the Image Signal Processor (ISP) is Qualcomm’s Spectra ISP (with dual 18-bit ISPs, always-sensing ISP dual camera: 2x 36 MP; single camera: up to 64 MP, and video capture at 4K HDR)
  • Audio tech includes Qualcomm’s Aqstic audio technology and aptX Audio
  • The cellular modem-RF is Qualcomm’s Snapdragon X65 5G Modem-RF System, with peak download speeds of 10 Gbps and peak upload speeds topping off at 3.5 Gbps; yes, this modem operates in the 1,000 MHz (mmWave) bandwidth, not just the 300 MHz (sub-6 GHz) bandwidth
  • The Wi-Fi/Bluetooth system is Qualcomm’s FastConnect 7800 system, with support for Wi-Fi 7, Wi-Fi 6E, and Wi-Fi 6 (standards: 802.11be, 802.11ax, 802.11ac, 802.11n, 802.11g, 802.11b, and 802.11a) and 6 GHz, 5 GHz, and 2.4 GHz spectral bands; also worthy of note is the up-to-four spatial streams with peak 4K QAM, passpoint, 8×8 Sounding, TDLS, Wi-Fi optimized connectivity, Wi-Fi location, OFDMA (UL/DL), MU-MIMO (UL/DL), Multi-Link Operation (MLO), and High-band Simultaneous (HBS)
  • Bluetooth 5.4, obviously
  • Security: chip to cloud security architecture; Qualcomm Secure Processing Unit (SPU), Microsoft Pluton TPM, total memory encryption, Microsoft Secured-core PC support
  • USB 4.0; 3x USB-C, 3x USB4, 2x USB3.2 Gen2, 1x eUSB2

Why Snapdragon Power Efficiency Matters

One of the defining performance characteristics of pretty much every Snapdragon chipset is their remarkable power efficiency. It is not difficult to understand how this translates into more manageable thermal envelopes, smoother multitasking, and significantly longer battery life, all of which are powerful market differentiators for individual users. That is the use case value proposition.

When it comes to enterprise environments, these on-device power efficiency improvements can deliver yet another layer of cumulative value: energy savings at scale. Beyond helping reduce operating costs, these savings can play a key role in helping organizations meet their environmental, social, and governance (ESG) targets. Five years ago, the sustainability aspect of energy-efficient PCs might have seemed like a secondary consideration, but as enterprises ramp up their ESG programs and push toward more aggressive targets, upgrading to energy-efficient PCs is becoming a top-of-mind consideration for IT decision makers (ITDMs).

So What Happens Now?

PCs powered by Snapdragon X Elite are expected from leading OEMs starting mid-2024, so we will have to circle back to Qualcomm’s PC gambit in H2 2024 to see how things are progressing. From what I have seen so far though, the platform looks not only solid but both extremely well-adapted to the new requirements of the AI-enhanced era of hybrid work and mercifully unsaddled by the kind of baggage and design limitations that can result from decades of incumbency.

Snapdragon X Elite’s primary challenge is not so much that it is not as good or as reliable as x86 or Apple silicon but rather that it is entering an already mature PC chipset market with very established and entrenched players. Qualcomm’s ability to work with key partners both on the OS side (Microsoft comes to mind) and on the OEM side (from Samsung to Asus), will give its PC business a much-needed boost right out of the gate. If Qualcomm’s ability to build a juggernaut partnership ecosystem for its automotive platforms in just a few years is any indication, I do not expect a lot of friction in the PC space, especially given Qualcomm’s already well-established relationship with mobile and PC OEMs. Building that kind of momentum and scale is Qualcomm’s business development stock in trade. Partnerships are therefore Qualcomm’s biggest on-ramp here, and I expect that every major Windows PC OEM will be turning to Qualcomm to help probe demand for their own take on the Windows-on-Arm PC. Is there a market for this? Absolutely. Is X Elite the right platform? Only time will tell, but right out of the gate, it looks more than capable. Things only get more impressive and competitive from here.

Focusing on Qualcomm’s Oryon CPU more broadly, it is already becoming clear that Qualcomm is looking beyond PCs to capitalize on its potential. Qualcomm is already dropping strong hints that Oryon will also start making its way into mobile SOCs, automotive solutions, and IoT SOCs before long. Keep that in mind as we transition into 2024. Qualcomm’s Oryon CPU is likely to become a much bigger part of the company’s broader product roadmap in the next few years.

Disclosure: The Futurum Group is a research and advisory firm that engages or has engaged in research, analysis, and advisory services with many technology companies, including those mentioned in this article. The author does not hold any equity positions with any company mentioned in this article.

Analysis and opinions expressed herein are specific to the analyst individually and data and other information that might have been provided for validation, not those of The Futurum Group as a whole.

Other insights from The Futurum Group:

Qualcomm Raises Bar for On-Device Generative AI at Snapdragon Summit

Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 Brings Generative AI to Smartphones

Intel Enters the AI PC Race With Its NPU-Powered Core Ultra Processor

Image Credit: Qualcomm

Author Information

Olivier Blanchard has extensive experience managing product innovation, technology adoption, digital integration, and change management for industry leaders in the B2B, B2C, B2G sectors, and the IT channel. His passion is helping decision-makers and their organizations understand the many risks and opportunities of technology-driven disruption, and leverage innovation to build stronger, better, more competitive companies.  Read Full Bio.


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