Qualcomm Will Try to Save Windows 10 on ARM

Posted on June 4, 2018 by Paul Thurrott in Mobile, Windows 10 with 35 Comments

Qualcomm will address the performance issues with first-generation Windows 10 on ARM PCs by engineering a new family of CPUs specifically for these products.

I actually saw this one coming, for a change. And if you also were paying attention to what Qualcomm announced so far this year, you might have noticed an interesting trend too. The mobile chip-making giant has started expanding its product lines by custom-designing chipsets specifically for different workloads instead of using the same chips for everything.

We saw this first with wearables, which I did report on. And we saw it with Internet of Things, which I did not. And I wondered, would we see this with PCs, too?

The answer, I was told, is yes. And I couldn’t be happier.

What this means is that second-generation, Qualcomm-based Always Connected PCs will not use the Snapdragon 845 processor, as we previously expected. Instead, they will utilize a new chipset, called the Snapdragon 850, which is being custom-tailored for PC use cases and optimized for performance.

Please read that again. Optimized for performance.

If you’ve followed along with my pre-release excitement about Windows 10 on ARM, and then my disappointment in actually using the first of these new PCs, you understand why this is such a big deal. Is, in fact, a potential gamer changer.

Windows 10 on ARM succeeds on a number of levels, but it suffers from two major usability issues: Application compatibility, which is tricky, and performance. Qualcomm is working with Microsoft and app makers to ensure that more applications work—and work well—when running on Snapdragon. But that latter issue, performance, is a bit trickier.

The performance problems we’re seeing today are caused in part because the first-generation ARM-based PCs utilize a Snapdragon 835 chipset which is optimized for smartphones. Its successor, the 845 is likewise optimized for smartphones.

So Qualcomm’s multi-year and multi-generational solution is to fork its Snapdragon chipset and create a new family of processors that specifically target PCs. The first of these is the Snapdragon 850.

It differs from the Snapdragon 835 in several important ways.

First, the 850 provides 30 percent faster performance on the PC, thanks to its faster Kryo 385 CPU cores, which run at speeds of up to 2.95 GHz, an improvement over the 2.6 GHz Kryo 280 in the Snapdragon 835. It also provides a 30 percent graphics performance boost.

Second, the 850 will provide 20 percent better battery life than its predecessor. Which is impressive, given that Snapdragon 835-based PCs already deliver about 20 hours of real-world battery life.

And third, Qualcomm is improving the speed of LTE-Advanced by about 20 percent, with the top download speed jumping to 1.2 Gbps thanks to a new Snapdragon X20 LTE modem.

At its Computex presentation today, Qualcomm will show off a reference design that it created for the Snapdragon 850. But the company expects the first 850-based PCs to hit the market in time for the holidays.


More soon.

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