CES 2017: Here Comes the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835

Posted on January 4, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Hardware, Mobile, Android, Windows 10 with 43 Comments

CES 2017: Here Comes the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835

The disrupter has been unveiled at last. Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time to meet the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835.

Right, I know. It doesn’t sound that exciting. And if you take Qualcomm’s claims for this chip and compare them to what it said about previous generation mobile chipsets like the Snapdragon 820, you will see that it using similar language, similar positioning.

And sure enough, the Snapdragon 835 offers tremendous advantages to the smartphones and tablets that will eventually carry this chipset. According to at least one test, it even bests Apple’s own mobile chipset, long held as the performance and power management champ. But that’s not what the Snapdragon 835 is all about, not really. No, this innocuous-sounding upgrade is really about chipping away—yes, pardon the pun—at Intel’s dominance of the portable PC market.

The Snapdragon 835 is smaller and more efficient than Intel’s designs, obviously: It is built with an ultra-thin 10nm manufacturing process at a time when Intel has been stuck at 14nm for three chipset generations. That is, of course, expected given the nature of the devices these two products currently support. But the 835 is also significantly smaller—35 percent smaller, in fact—than its predecessor, the Snapdragon 820. And that is … impressive.

“This pivotal size reduction and efficiency boost allow device manufacturers to design thinner premium-tier consumer devices (smartphones, VR/AR head-mounted displays, IP cameras, tablets, mobile PCs, and more) with larger batteries that run on less power and last longer,” Qualcomm explains. “All told, Snapdragon 835 is engineered to use 25 percent less power than the previous generation, which means huge battery savings.”

Note that comment about “mobile PCs.” This, to me, is the big news with the Snapdragon 835. This is about Qualcomm positioning itself for the “mobile first, cloud first” world that Microsoft talks about, about pushing into a new market that, quite frankly, has been under-served if not abused by Intel and its inability to make this transition itself.

There are all kinds of things going on with this chipset, which is a “system on a chip” or SoC design like previous Qualcomm/ARM (and Intel) chipsets. The aforementioned battery life improvements. Faster 3D graphic rendering that is aimed at the VR market. 3D positional audio support. Improved support for camera and video performance. And an integrated Snapdragon X16 Gigabit LTE modem, which supports 802.11ad multi-gigabit, and integrated 2×2 11ac MU-MIMO Wi-Fi.

Two of those features—improved battery life and the integrated connectivity functionality—were specifically called out by Microsoft’s Terry Myerson at WinHEC last month when he announced that full Windows 10 would be headed to the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835.

I am excited by this potential future for the PC, and if you consider Microsoft’s half-steps into a 3-in-1-type device with Windows 10 Mobile-based phones and Continuum, you can see why it’s so important for the software giant to get this one right. After all, the 835’s improvements aren’t just for Windows. And we know that it’s only a matter of time before the Android world starts plotting its own 3-in-1 phone designs—that is, phones that can transform into a PC when docked and connected to a keyboard, mouse, and display—and Google adds this support natively to the Android OS.

I’ll be writing on that topic soon. For now, know this: The race is on.


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Comments (43)

43 responses to “CES 2017: Here Comes the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835”

  1. 214

    Wondering if the Snapdragon 835 will also find a home in a next-gen HoloLens - and allow it to escape the confines of that mail-slot view?


    • 622

      In reply to chrisrut:

      835 should perform better than the current Intel chip, included in the developer version of HoloLens. Hopefully the consumer version (if there is one) will start to use a snapdragon as there is no better alternative in performance/power ratio.

  2. 9326

    I wonder if Intel is going to start making ARM based processors in place of the Atom product line.  If they did, they could have an advantage over the competition by including a small x86 Co-Processor in conjunction with their ARM-based processors that would eliminate the requirement of Emulation which allows Win32 apps to work on "Windows on ARM" devices; since the x86 co-processor could execute the CISC x86 code natively instead of having the ARM cores emulating the code.


  3. 314

    Its like the Linux joke has come full circle now.

    2017 - The year of Windows on the phone/tablet!

  4. 5553

    But can it play Crysis 2032 @2160p 60 fps ?

  5. 5539

    "that is, phones that can transform into a PC when docked and connected to a keyboard, mouse, and display". There is more to making a phone (sized) device into a PC than connecting a keyboard, mouse, and monitor. I can already do that with WP, iOS and Android. (well no mouse with iOS). The key is what can you run on it once connected to that keyboard, mouse, and monitor. With MS the answer will be, anything that runs on Windows, with some performance caveats. What is Google going to run on an Android device so provisioned? Chrome? Woopie? How about Apple? Are they going to run MacOS on the iPhone so the docked scenario makes sense? Hopefully neither Google and Apple expect to scale up their mobile OS and apps to a full size desktop setup. MS has a tremendous opportunity to squander here. 

  6. 5592

    The problem for Google (that Microsoft has already tackled with Continuum) is that it's not just about putting the display on a big screen and getting mouse and keyboard input (although Apple can't manage that with iOS) but in getting app developers an interaction model that dynamically changes the layout and interaction models to match the capabilities of the device.

    Having a phone app in a little window on a phone screen with the mouse acting as a pointy finger isn't exactly a satisfying experience as those who used Windows Mobile's capability to do that a decade ago can attest. It takes smart apps on top of a smart multi-device API to really have apps that are universal to different device types.


    • 5234

      In reply to MikeGalos:

      Google has been pushing developers to use responsive UI for several years now, before Continuum was even a thing.

      • 5812

        In reply to Waethorn:

        I'm using an Acer Chromebook R11 for test with the Google app store and it has a touch screen. It's pretty great and at $250 a steal of a machine. There will be many mid and upper end machines coming out for Google Chrome and the release of Android on ChromeOS. Should be out in the next 3 or 4 months. 

      • 5592

        In reply to Waethorn:

        There's more to a full "run anywhere as a real app" than just the size of the UI elements. The interaction model has to be different (as Apple has been painfully learning in getting feature parity between their iOS and macOS applications)

    • 9562

      In reply to MikeGalos:

      Continuum is stillborn so I'm not sure where MS really tackled anything.

  7. 5864

    The 835 has such an impressive feature set from what's been bragged about, that I almost want to coin it the Athlon 64(?) of this decade. Qualcomm may put Intel on its heels, if just in the mobile market (if it's as good as advertised). If AMD's Zen chips are as good as promised, maybe Intel will have to deal with competition from two different directions!

    • 4949

      In reply to ezraward:

      Sadly, AMD Zen won't be as good as promised.  Not saying it won't be a decent contender... but so far they have already promised the moon, and there is just nobody in their right mind that would believe them at this point.  But if they can get some momentum and build on what Zen delivers over the next few years, then maybe they will give Intel some much needed motivation to make changes.

      Can't wait to see real benchmarks though!

  8. 996

    Two Questions:

    1) With the Windows 10 Mobile SKU with Win32 support inbound, boasting a much more smaller OS footprint; cleaner, lighter code and longer ARM gestation, meaning better performance on ARM; what's the point of the full, bloated Desktop SKU of Windows on ARM? The integrated Enterprise Features? Is Full Windows on ARM just a hold-over until the Windows 10 Mobile SKU matches Enterprise Feature Parity?

    2) Now that Microsoft has executed a fall-back 'Plan F' and is emulating Win32 on ARM, will they now just execute a 'Plan G' and allow Android App Emulation on Windows 10 and compete with the competition head-on finally? (UWP is undeniably better than terrible java-based android apps, but I'd rather actual content over being ignored entirely.)

    • 5101

      In reply to Lewk:


      Windows 10 Mobile with Win32 is not a thing, it's just Desktop Windows 10 but compiled for ARM instead of x86. Microsoft may do some feature differentiation vs the desktop SKU's, but I'm not aware if they've shared anything about this yet. And they are not "emulating Win32 on ARM"; the whole OS, including the Win32 code, is just compiled from the C/C++ source code to ARM machine code, rather than x86 machine code. (Low-level drivers/boot code that are tightly integrated to the hardware and use x86 assembly instructions do need to be rewritten. For example don't expect Hyper-V support anytime soon.)

      The programs that will be emulated are the legacy/abandoned Windows desktop applications. Most actively developed apps should easily be ported from x86 to ARM; again, aside from low-level assembly code, this is just a recompile of the source, which represents very little additional work for a developer (days/weeks, not months/years). But this is just on the app side; any time that app calls into the OS APIs (e.g. Win32, .NET, etc.) those will be running natively in ARM code. Assuming, of course, that MSFT even lets native-ARM+Win32 applications run; they may lock this out to encourage devs to move to UWP. 

      The funny thing is that Windows RT already had full Win32 support, Microsoft just never unlocked it for external use. The full versions of Office that MSFT provided with Windows RT ran on Win32 APIs, just like their desktop counterparts. Many developers "jail broke" their WindowsRT devices and ported all kinds of Win32 apps to them. In fact, the UWP API, and its predecessor API WinRT, both run on top of Win32 and can't exist without it.

  9. 5553

    There is still a lot of WIN left in Windows.

  10. 442

    I can't wait to see what becomes of Win 10 on the 835...

  11. 4949

    So, lots of people here seem to be wondering why on earth anyone would be interested in such crappy little computers running on ARM.  Well there are several reasons;

    1) Fanless PCs!  I work for a school district, and every summer we spend ~$3-5,000 in man-hours alone just to blow out and clean up PCs.  Having small sealed fanless units that don't cost an arm and a leg because they have some specialty heatsink built into the case would literally save us thousands of dollars every year.  Over the 10 year life of such 'fleet' PCs this adds up quickly.  Less noise also means for a better teaching/working enviornment, and while modern NUC and desktop PCs are much quieter than they use to be... they still make quite a bit of noise, especially as they age.

    2) Lower power, better sleep.  Businesses do not pay the same amount of money for electricity as normal home owners and apartment dwellers do.  Power for businesses costs 2-3x as much.  Having a fleet of PCs that have significantly lower use power, and that can go to sleep reliably will save thousands of dollars every year compared to normal desktop PCs.

    3) Longer lifespans.  No fans.  No HDDs.  Solid caps. This pretty much means there would be no easily failing parts in a PC.  Invest in some building-level power conditioning and you would have PCs that could last well over 10 years without part-related issues.  The fact of life is that it is too expensive to send techs out to swap out noisy fans and other such issues, so most businesses leave units on the floor until they die, no matter how terrible it is for the end-user.  Having fewer failing parts means that the unit runs fine until it is dead, and then it gets replaced.  That means either far less overhead on hardware maintenance, or a far better user experience over the life of a unit.

    4) And this goes for everyone: lower prices for entry level machines.  ARM chips are far simpler and far cheaper to produce than the Goliath x86 CPUs on the market today.  Moving to the 835 we should see decent $300 or less PCs that are still perfectly capable of moderate to heavy web use, video playback, etc.  More importantly, it should signal Intel to lower the price of their Atom, Celeron, Pentium, and i3 offerings which the 835 and later models will be targeting.  With ARM attacking the low end and AMD getting back in the mid to (hopefully, *fingers crossed*) high end, we should finally see some lower CPU prices across the board.  When you are buying whole labs of PCs 30-120 units at a time having a $300 or less PC option that has all of the above benefits will speak volumes.

  12. 5767

    Windows 10 on ARM = Surface Phone + Surface Mini! Hopefully Project Neon fixes the UI and makes devs excited about UWP and we will get all our yummy mobile apps!

  13. 6956

    So since the 835 is "Core I-5 class," and the 820 is "Core I-3 class," do you see any hurdles in getting full Windows 10 on the 820 as well, just running at I-3 performance?

    • 622

      In reply to AlexKven:

      There is a lot of work in underlying SOC, drivers etc that optimize the Win32 performance on 835 which will likely not get back ported. Also, there is probably no demand from OEMs (even MS) for a new 820 based device (or) update existing devices. So, Windows on ARM is very much 835+ only.

  14. 661

    any information on support for Virtualization (HyperV and AppV) or for trusted computing capabilities (Secure elements like TPM and support for attestation)?

  15. 5394

    Yes, exiting stuff, but this is just the beginning. We won't know if it takes off or remains stillborn where Windows on ARM is concerned.

    • 5553

      In reply to glenn8878:or the Democrats might abort it.


    • 9562

      In reply to glenn8878:

      Windows isn't even part of the conversation.  This chip will be powering the newest high end Android phones and mobile devices, not cheapo windows 10 2-in-1's.  It'll be expensive.  

      Not sure why WMobile clingers think this SoC will be the savior of Windows, or show up in any windows devices.  A lot of wishful thinking over MS showing a sluggish demo of W10 running emulated on ARM.

      This chip will power Android scaling out to desktops, not bloated x86 Windows scaling down to mobile.

      • 5394

        In reply to BoItmanLives:

        It is part of the conversation. It's right up there. "I am excited by this potential future for the PC."

        Android is a non-issue. They will continue to dominate in using the Qualcomm Snapdragon. Apple makes its own chips and won't be using it. As the power of ARM converge to match low end PCs, Windows will be there to exploit it or miss out.

  16. 2039

    In reply to chrisrut:

    It's likely next HoloLens will switch to ARM as Microsoft can't rely on Intel anymore for innovating in this area with them.

    However, SoC itself isn't enough to solve FoV problems, even if clearly one of reasons is that current HoloLens lacks in power and battery life department (partially thanks to Intel) so some sacrifices had to be made (like reducing rendered area).

    • 9562

      In reply to Vidua:

      "Next" HoloLens?  MS couldn't even get anyone interested in the first one, certainly not developers.  Anyone that's had a demo laughed at the FOV and put it back down.

    • 4949

      In reply to Vidua:

      Keep in mind that Hololens uses a special co-processor (likely already ARM) to deal with the extra compute.  I mean, there is no way a quad core Atom is doing all of that work on it's own lol.

  17. 5101

    Hi Paul,

    For some time now, the XX nm numbers have been dictacted more by marketing than anything else at this point. Here's a comparison from SemiWiki of the actual densities of various leading-edge processes as of 2016. Samsung's 10nm process comes in around 12 nm, while Intel's 14 nm is around 13.4 nm. This slight shrink compared to the process size of current Intel chips (e.g. Kaby Lake) is not going to make much of a difference.

    Also, neither will the ARM ISA be that much more efficient than x86. The OS and application level power management have a far greater effect than the choice of ISA. This is the main reason that iOS and Android, which were architected from the ground up as mobile OSes, get so much better standby battery life than Windows and/or macOS.

    What will have a large effect on power is the modem. The failure of Intel to ship a competitive integrated modem is really what doomed them in the smartphone space, NOT x86 vs ARM ISA differences. (In 2015, the only integrated modem Intel had was 3G. In 2015.)