Qualcomm And The Rise Of Non-X86 Windows
Maximum PC|August 2019

Intel is feeling the squeeze from its ARM rivals

For perhaps too long, Intel dominated the CPU market for Windows laptops and PCs. If you were buying or building a new computer, you’d almost certainly be slotting an Intel chip into the motherboard. But one company having such dominance isn’t a good thing. It restricts choice for consumers, and the market leader can get complacent.

Things are changing, however. A resurgent AMD is bringing the heat back to Intel with its Ryzen and Threadripper CPUs, and we’re also seeing the rise of non-x86 ARM processors. Usually found in mobile and embedded devices, a new generation of ARM processors is now powering laptops, lead by Qualcomm. With the likes of Microsoft and Lenovo supporting this new breed of laptop, it looks like the way we use those devices could change forever, and Intel needs to adapt—or die.

Qualcomm is a US company that used to be best known for creating telecommunication equipment. Its Snapdragon System on Chip (SoC) platform powered some of the most popular smartphones in the world. Part of the appeal of Snapdragon-powered smartphones was that, thanks to Qualcomm’s hardware, these devices could handle many tasks that we used to use computers for. Suddenly, we were checking emails, browsing the web, and posting cat pictures on social media using our smartphones. Laptops began to fall out of vogue.

For the past 40 years, laptops have pretty much kept the same form factor. Sure, 2-in-1 laptops with 360-degree hinges and removable keyboards (such as Lenovo’s Yoga series or Microsoft’s Surface Laptop respectively), offered slightly different spins on the tried-and-tested laptop design, but on the whole, laptops hadn’t changed much. You got a screen and keyboard in a clamshell design, and they were usually powered by Intel processors and integrated graphics. They became safe and boring, especially compared to high-end smartphones, and the laptop market declined accordingly.

However, at Computex 2017, Qualcomm and Microsoft announced a new breed of laptop, powered by the Snapdragon platform. Instead of smartphones taking features from laptops, we saw laptops from manufacturers such as HP, Lenovo, and Asus taking inspiration from smartphones.

This first wave of Windows on Snapdragon (WoS) devices were built on the octa-core Snapdragon 835 SoC. Originally designed for flagship smartphones such as the Samsung Galaxy S8, the Snapdragon 835 was a 64bit ARM processor that used Qualcomm’s in-house Kryo 280 cores, and was built using Samsung’s 10nm FinFET processor.

These ARM-based laptops brought features we’d come to take for granted on smartphones, such as almost instant boot times, always-on cellular data connection, and battery lives far in excess of anything an Intel-based x86 laptop was capable of, with claimed battery lives of over 20 hours.

The Snapdragon 835 SoC also ran a lot cooler than x86 hardware, which meant manufacturers could forgo fans—leading to thinner, lighter, and quieter laptops.

The HP Envy x2 and Asus NovaGo were two of the first Snapdragon-powered laptops, and they certainly delivered on some promises—battery lives lasted around 20 hours, and the always-on 4G cellular data connection meant you could instantly get online almost anywhere without having to find and log into Wi-Fi networks (good for the securityconscious, as it meant you could avoid potentially compromised Wi-Fi hotspots).

However, they were far from perfect. When it came to performance, these non-x86 laptops couldn’t keep up with Intel and AMD-powered machines. While Microsoft worked hard to make a version of Windows 10 that worked on non-x86 gear, it struggled with even simple tasks.

Worse, these laptops were incredibly expensive, considering the level of performance you got. While they should have been priced around the same as a low-end Chromebook, they ended up costing closer to $1,000—and for that money you could buy a high-end Intel laptop that would blow the Snapdragonpowered device out of the water.

Still, they were doing something new, and they hinted at the possibilities of non-x86 Windows laptops.

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

MORE STORIES FROM MAXIMUM PCView All

SteelSeries Arctis 9 $170

A LOT OF HEADSETS seem to have at least one or two things that hold them back from being great, either to reduce the cost, or to help one aspect of the headset exceed at the expense of another. The Arctis 9, on the other hand, does everything that is thrown at it very well indeed.

1 min read
Maximum PC
April 2021

X by Kygo A11/800 $249

X BY KYGO is a fairly new brand imagined by Norwegian DJ Kygo himself. This pair, the A11/800, fit towards the higher end of the lineup, with a simple yet effective monocolored look.

2 mins read
Maximum PC
April 2021

Sony WH-1000XM4 $348

AT FIRST GLANCE, you might not get the sense that these headphones contain some serious power under the hood, as this power is hidden under an elegant and sleek body. Its smooth matte monocolored finish pushes the idea that Sony wanted sophistication with substance.

1 min read
Maximum PC
April 2021

Sennheiser HD450BT Wireless $200

YOU ALL KNOW of Sennheiser, as an audio powerhouse at the forefront of sound. The HD450BT is a very well-rounded pair of headphones, sitting in the company’s low to mid-range price bracket at $200.

2 mins read
Maximum PC
April 2021

Netgear Nighthawk XR1000

Excellent wireless, but we demand more ports

3 mins read
Maximum PC
April 2021

Razer Book 13

A new chapter

4 mins read
Maximum PC
April 2021

Audeze Penrose Planar Magnetic Headset $299

AUDEZE has used its phenomenal audio knowledge to create a very solid gaming headset. The company is more traditionally known for high-end planar magnetic headphones but has dipped into the world of gaming with the Penrose.

1 min read
Maximum PC
April 2021

Corsair HS60 Haptic $120

IF WHITE CAMO is your thing, or you can overlook the fact that this is white camo, then the HS60 is a good contender for this battle. Looks aren’t everything, remember.

2 mins read
Maximum PC
April 2021

AMD Ryzen 9 5950X

The usurper has come

3 mins read
Maximum PC
April 2021

Bitdefender vs. Avira

Does paid-for security have the edge over free?

6 mins read
Maximum PC
February 2021
RELATED STORIES

APPEALS COURT TOSSES ANTITRUST RULING AGAINST QUALCOMM

A federal appeals court has overturned an antitrust ruling against Qualcomm, dismissing arguments that it unlawfully squeezed out cellphone chip rivals and charged excessive royalties to manufacturers such as Apple.

1 min read
AppleMagazine
AppleMagazine #459

Galaxy S20 International Models Explained: Which Works For You?

The Samsung Galaxy S20 lineup will be the first set of unlocked phones that work on the 5G networks of all major US carriers. Even if you don’t buy your phone unlocked, only one hardware version of the S20+ and S20 Ultra will be sold in the US, although your phone will come loaded with carrier firmware.

4 mins read
PC Magazine
April 2020

Project Athena Notebooks Perform Better On Battery, And Intel Has The Numbers To Prove It

Intel’s trying to steal a little of the spotlight away from Qualcomm.

2 mins read
PCWorld
January 2020

Hands On With The Snapdragon 8c And 7c, Qualcomm's Value-PC Play

We couldn’t run benchmarks, so here are some common tasks.

3 mins read
PCWorld
January 2020

The 5G Phones You Really Want Are Coming In Early 2020

Don’t buy a 5G phone yet, unless you want to suffer as an early adopter.

3 mins read
PCWorld
January 2020

Hands On With Microsoft Surface Pro X, A New Direction For Surface

There are sacrifices: the microSD slot, USB-A port, and headphone jack.

5 mins read
PCWorld
November 2019

Judge Rules Qualcomm Violated Antitrust Law In Chip Market

A federal judge has ruled that Qualcomm unlawfully squeezed out cellphone chip rivals and charged excessive royalties to manufacturers such as Apple in a decision that undercuts a key part of its business.

2 mins read
AppleMagazine
May 24, 2019

Meet Qualcomm's Snapdragon 855: AI Boosts, A Smarter Camera, And Mobile Gaming

Qualcomm’s making dozens of improvements to the Snapdragon 855, both large and small.

8 mins read
PCWorld
January 2019

ROG PHONE 5 SERIES

The ROG Phone 5 series is the latest incarnation of the world’s most advanced gaming smartphone.

1 min read
NXT
April 2021

OPPO FIND X3 PRO

Packed with industry-leading features, Find X3 Pro stands out with its Full-path 10-bit Colour Management System and True Billion Colour Display.

1 min read
NXT
April 2021