The Qualcomm Snapdragon 8cx will power the next premium Always On, Always Connected PCs

Qualcomm is best known among our readers for their Snapdragon mobile platforms, but over the past two years, the company has worked to expand into the laptop space by introducing a new class of product: the Always On, Always Connected PC. Nearly two years ago to this very day, Microsoft and Qualcomm announced a partnership to get Windows 10 on ARM running on “premium-tier” Snapdragon mobile platforms. We later learned that the company’s existing Snapdragon 835 mobile platform would be the first to support Windows 10 on ARM. In the middle of 2018, Qualcomm announced the Snapdragon 850, a mobile platform designed specifically for Windows on ARM. At this year’s Snapdragon Tech Summit, Qualcomm has announced the Snapdragon 8cx, a new mobile platform tier designed to power premium Always On, Always Connected PCs shipping late next year.

With the Always On, Always Connected class of laptop PCs, Qualcomm is targeting those users who need a laptop that can stay connected while on the go and has battery life that easily lasts them throughout the day. Laptops powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon compute platform are designed to be thin, light, and fanless, much like the smartphones that we use daily. However, laptops are typically used for more intensive work and as such need to be more powerful than the mobile platforms that our smartphones are based on. With the Snapdragon 8cx compute platform, Qualcomm has designed their most powerful platform yet. Just as the new Snapdragon 855 was designed to be Qualcomm’s premium tier smartphone platform, the new Snapdragon 8cx is a separate premium computing tier. Thus, the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8cx is not a replacement for the Snapdragon 850, as both products will coexist in the market.

Qualcomm Snapdragon 8cx

Qualcomm Snapdragon 8cx Reference Design.

Snapdragon 8cx Specifications at a Glance

Qualcomm Snapdragon 8cx Qualcomm Snapdragon 850
CPU CPU Cores: 4+4 Qualcomm Kryo 495 (Cortex-A76 @ 2.75GHz + Cortex-A55) CPU Cores: 4+4 Qualcomm Kryo 385 (Cortex-A75 + Cortex-A55)
GPU Qualcomm Adreno 680

2x performance improvement and 60% greater power efficiency*

Qualcomm Adreno 630
Memory and Storage Memory Speed: 2133MHz

Memory Type: LPDDR4x, 8 Channels, up to 16GB

Storage: NVME SSD; UFS3.0

Memory speed: 1866MHz

Memory Type: 4x16bit, LPDDR4x
UFS: UFS2.1 Gear3 2L, up to 8GB

SD: SD 3.0 (UHS-I)

ISP Dual 14-bit ISPs, Qualcomm Spectra™ 390 image signal processor

Dual 16 MPix cameras at 30fps ZSL
Single 32 MPix camera at 30fps ZSL

Dual 14-bit ISPs, Qualcomm Spectra™ 280 image signal processor

Dual 16 MPix cameras at 30fps ZSL
Single 32 MPix camera at 30fps ZSL

Modem Snapdragon X24 LTE

2000Mbps DL (Cat. 20), 316Mbps UL (Cat 20)

Snapdragon X20 LTE

1200Mbps DL (Cat. 18), 150Mbps UL (Cat 13)

Manufacturing Process 7nm FinFET 10nm LPP FinFet

*Based on figures provided by Qualcomm at the respective time of release.

Qualcomm Snapdragon 8cx

Qualcomm states that the Snapdragon 8cx is their most powerful platform yet. Built on a 7nm fabrication process, the platform features 4×4 Kryo 495 CPU cores which have a larger system and L3 cache than the previous generation (a total of 10MB cache is available), allowing for faster multitasking.  The new Adreno 680 GPU promises double the performance and 60% greater power efficiency when compared to the Snapdragon 850 compute platform (the GPU performance is 3.5 times that of the Snapdragon 835). The Adreno 680 features twice the number of transistors, double the memory bandwidth from 64bit to 128bit wide, supports the latest DirectX 12 API, and supports VP9 and h265 decoders. The improvements to the CPU, GPU, and DSP along with the integrated AI Engine will improve AI-related functions on the platform. (For more information on the Hexagon 690, please read Mario Serrafero’s piece about how Qualcomm has improved AI.) The platform supports Qualcomm’s Snapdragon X24 LTE modem, but there’s no option for the Snapdragon X50 5G modem (however, Qualcomm says that 5G support is coming to “this form factor,” which means a future compute platform may support 5G). Finally, the Snapdragon 8cx supports Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 4+ technology for fast wired charging.

For multimedia, the Snapdragon 8cx supports 4K HDR video playback at 120fps. PCs with the Snapdragon 8cx compute platform can connect up to two 4K HDR monitors. For transferring files or connecting to peripherals, the Snapdragon 8cx supports second-generation USB 3.1 Type-C and third-generation PCI-E. Lastly, for audio, the Snapdragon 8cx supports Qualcomm’s Aqstic audio technology suite which consists of multiple high-quality audio codecs, “smart power amplifiers,” and other technologies. Qualcomm’s aptX HD Bluetooth audio codec is also included for crisp Bluetooth audio streaming.

Qualcomm Snapdragon 8cx

Like previous compute platforms, the Snapdragon 8cx is ARM-based. That means it runs Windows 10 optimized for ARM, which naturally means it would have some limitations as Windows is optimized for x86. To better support ARM devices, Microsoft had previously built an x86 emulator which allows most 32-bit x86 apps to run unmodified, though the performance may not be up to par with an app compiled natively for Windows on ARM. Fortunately, the new Snapdragon 8cx has full hypervisor and Windows 10 Enterprise support, and Microsoft has already opened the door for native 64-bit app support on Windows on ARM. Qualcomm has confirmed that they are working with Google and Mozilla to optimize the Chrome and Firefox browsers respectively for Windows on ARM, but still no word on when we’ll see Snapdragon compute platforms arrive on a Chromebook. Windows on ARM is slowly becoming more compelling, and Qualcomm doesn’t seem to be giving up on this category just because the first two generations of Always On, Always Connected PCs did poorly in reviews.

The Qualcomm Snapdragon 8cx compute platform is being sampled to customers and is expected to ship in commercial products in Q3 2019.

Full List of Specifications and Features

If you are interested in reading about the Snapdragon 8cx’s specifications and feature list in full, please expand the toggle below.

Qualcomm Snapdragon 8cx Specifications and Features

Qualcomm Artificial Intelligence Engine

  • Qualcomm® Hexagon™ 685 DSP
  • Qualcomm® All-Ways Aware™ technology
  • AI Features
    • 4th Generation Qualcomm AI Engine
    • Enhanced voice assistant experiences for Alexa and Cortana with Qualcomm Aqstic technology

Modem

  • Qualcomm® Snapdragon™ X24 LTE Modem
  • LTE Category: LTE Category 20
  • Peak Download Speed: 2 Gbps
  • Peak Upload Speed: 316 Mbps
  • Downlink Features: 7×20 MHz carrier aggregation, Up to 256-QAM, Up to 4×4 MIMO on five carriers, Full-Dimension MIMO (FD-MIMO), Maximum 20 spatial streams
  • Uplink Features: Qualcomm® Snapdragon™ Upload+, 3×20 MHz carrier aggregation, Up to 2x 106Mbps LTE streams, Up to 256-QAM, Uplink data compression
  • Supported Cellular Technologies: LTE FDD, LTE TDD including CBRS support, LAA, LTE Broadcast, WCDMA (DB-DC-HSDPA, DC-HSUPA), TD-SCDMA, CDMA 1x, EV-DO, GSM/EDGE
  • Modem Features
    • Connected Standby / Instant On
    • Multi-Gigabit speeds for virtually seamless cloud connectivity/computing: up to 2Gbps LTE

Wi-Fi

  • Wi-Fi Standards: 802.11ad, 802.11ac Wave 2, 802.11a/b/g, 802.11n
  • Wi-Fi Bands: 2.4 GHz, 5 GHz, 60 GHz
  • MIMO Configuration: 2×2 (2-stream)
  • Wi-Fi Features
    • MU-MIMO
    • Multi-gigabit Wi-Fi
    • Dual-band simultaneous (DBS)
    • Integrated baseband

Camera

  • Image Signal Processor: Dual 14-bit ISPs, Qualcomm Spectra™ 390 image signal processor
  • 4K HDR video capture @30fps (10-bit color depth, rec2020.)
  • Single HFR 16 MPix camera at 60fps ZSL
  • Dual 16 MPix cameras at 30fps ZSL
  • Single 32 MPix camera at 30fps ZSL
  • 4K HDR decode at 120fps
  • Codec Support: H.265 (HEVC), VP9 and H.264
  • Camera Features
    • Latest DirectX 12 API
    • High efficiency video encoder
    • Cinema core – VP9 & H.265 decoder
    • 2nd Gen HDR Playback
    • Dual 4K external display support

Audio

  • Qualcomm Aqstic™ audio technology
  • Qualcomm TrueWireless™ technology
  • Qualcomm® Broadcast Audio technology
  • Qualcomm® aptX™ audio technology: aptX Classic, aptX HD
  • Surround Sound Audio
  • Speaker Protection

Display

  • Maximum On-Device Display Support: 4K
  • Maximum External Display Support: Two 4K Displays

CPU

  • CPU Cores: 8x Qualcomm® Kryo™ 495
  • CPU Architecture: 64-bit
  • 7nm Process Technology

Visual Subsystem

  • Qualcomm® Adreno™ 680
  • API Support DX12

RF Front-End

  • Qualcomm® RF Front-End solution
  • Qualcomm® Signal Boost adaptive antenna tuning
  • High-power transmit (HPUE)

Security

  • Windows 10 Support: Enterprise, Pro, Home
  • Security Features
    • Improved crypto-security
    • Remote management and location
      awareness for enterprise efficiency

Memory & Storage

  • Memory Type: LPDDR4x, 8 Channels
  • Storage: NVME SSD; UFS3.0

Location

  • Global Emergency Services: Assisted GPS, OTDOA (LTE-based positioning)
  • Satellite Systems: GPS, GLONASS, Beidou, Galileo, QZSS, SBAS
  • Location Features
    • Location Aware for app accuracy
    • Low Power Geofencing and Tracking
    • Sensor-assisted Navigation
    • Pedestrian Navigation

Connectivity Specifications

  • Bluetooth Version: 5.0
  • Near Field Communications: Supported
  • USB Version: USB 3.1

Charging Features

  • Qualcomm® Quick Charge™ 4+ technology

For those of you who have read this far, here’s a little nugget of information about the product’s marketing name: “cx” in 8cx stands for “compute” and “extreme.”

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