January 20, 2022

Qualcomm’s 8cx Gen 3 for Notebooks, Nuvia Core in 2022/2023


There are numerous column inches detailing Qualcomm’s design wins and advertising technique, nevertheless to color all of it with a broad brush, it has typically boiled right down to ‘the place can we stick our superior wi-fi expertise?’. The corporate has had nice success with smartphones, cornering a big chunk of US market and sizeable numbers worldwide, and in the previous few years has pivoted to new markets, akin to automotive and digital actuality, but in addition tried to reinvigorate current markets, akin to notebooks and laptops. Since 2017, Qualcomm has wedged a brand new class into the market, dubbed the ‘At all times Linked PC’, providing Home windows management with excessive battery life and cellular connectivity. At this yr’s Tech Summit, Qualcomm launched its newest processor, nevertheless the actual magic would possibly come subsequent yr.

As soon as Linked, At all times Linked?

Taking the trendy laptop computer and pocket book market as an entire, we’ve seen appreciable design enhancements during the last 5 years. Gone are the cumbersome behemoths with poor screens and an hour battery life, changed by ultraportable gadgets that may chew by a contemporary workflow for hours with out cost. The glossy designs of this finish of the market go well with these on the go, most notably educational and enterprise customers. On the opposite finish, these cumbersome designs are actually gaming powerhouses supporting digital actuality and immersive gaming – nonetheless an hour or two on the battery, however a correct moveable workstation.

It’s the ultraportable market the place Qualcomm noticed a possibility. Even in 2016/2017, we have been seeing designs from Intel and Apple with kind elements that made the {hardware} best for the enterprise person on the go. Qualcomm, already established in smartphones as one of many main gamers (if not the main participant), recognized a possibility to supply an identical platform out there, however one bundled with native cellular connectivity, like a smartphone.

Working with Microsoft, we noticed the introduction of Home windows on Snapdragon primarily based thin-and-light notebooks enter the market in mid-2017, utilizing the earlier technology flagship cellular processor. Preliminary responses to the platform have been extraordinarily optimistic when it got here to battery life and as a web-focused work machine that might leverage an unbiased 4G connection from different gadgets. Sadly the efficiency, software program compatibility, and price of companion gadgets from HP, ASUS, and Lenovo have been the downsides. For $1000+, customers have been anticipating at a minimal a efficiency and software program parity to their present x86 gadgets, which this primary technology didn’t present.

Qualcomm acknowledged the nascent state of the platform – constructing a model of Home windows for Arm (or as Qualcomm places it, ‘for Snapdragon’, given the shut collaboration) is tough, particularly one which additionally affords emulation of recent x86 software program. Figuring out the foremost purposes utilized by clients and dealing with these software program distributors to create ARM native variations, to hurry them up, grew to become a Sisyphean job in-of-itself. However on prime of this, x86 emulation had been restricted to 32-bit for now, eliminating energy customers from the potential market house. Right now, Qualcomm’s ‘At all times Linked PC’ (ACPC) mission was centered totally on enterprise customers with typical Workplace/Net workflows.

The second technology of ACPC used an up to date processor, nonetheless primarily based on a smartphone design, albeit with extra leeway in efficiency on the larger thermal limits. This Snapdragon 850 technology noticed adoption from Microsoft Floor, an enormous design win for the mission. The 850 was the final ‘smartphone designed’ silicon, as from this level on Qualcomm created ACPC particular {hardware} optimized for pocket book use instances – extra die space, extra graphics, a wider vary of thermals. This additionally accompanied extra help for Home windows on Snapdragon, nevertheless even with the 2020 processor launch of the Snapdragon 8cx Gen 2, there have been nonetheless software program holes to patch and efficiency for energy customers nonetheless required. However 30+ day standby and 24hrs+ battery made the {hardware} very engaging.

It was across the Snapdragon 850/Snapdragon 8cx timeframe that Qualcomm realised the ‘worth addition’ of cellular connectivity like a smartphone was not the actual promoting level of the {hardware}. It was as a substitute the battery – optimizing a smartphone platform for notebooks had important advantages, permitting customers to attend multi-day conferences with out the necessity of a charger (or with the appearance of Sort-C, one charger for smartphone and laptop computer). Qualcomm additional pushed the business credentials of its platform exhausting.

  • This autumn 2017: Snapdragon 835
  • Q3 2018: Snapdragon 850
  • This autumn 2018: Snapdragon 8cx (first devoted for notebooks)
  • Q3 2019: Snapdragon SQ1 (sooner 8cx for Microsoft)
  • This autumn 2019: Snapdragon 7c and seven (value down variations for schooling)
  • Q3 2020: Snapdragon 8cx Gen 2 and SQ2
  • Q2 2021: Snapdragon 7c Gen 2
  • This autumn 2021: Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3

Whereas the battery life was an enormous draw, one of many goals of Qualcomm’s ACPC mission has been to showcase that having a laptop computer or pocket book with a smartphone like connection permits use instances like no different – the flexibility to reply e mail with out the necessity to take care of a small smartphone keyboard, for instance, or handle displays whereas on the highway. For that business market, the place Qualcomm is promoting machines to companies for his or her workforce, it makes a number of sense.

Nonetheless, there have been different criticisms of that use case, akin to the truth that individuals with a tool like an ACPC most likely even have a smartphone, and tethering is a factor. The USA was distinctive for some time in that a lot of smartphone knowledge plans disallowed tethering, which might have put a plus on a tool just like the ACPC with its personal connection, nevertheless the remainder of the world didn’t do that and the USA has seen sense since. A counter to that is the extra battery necessities on the smartphone, which might be a real concern.

The opposite large criticism has come from the wi-fi carriers themselves – they haven’t adopted the ACPC mindset in relation to providing relevant plans. In a great world, a person would have a single plan overlaying each smartphone and laptop computer SIMs and a single knowledge bucket for each, nevertheless the carriers which can be nonetheless charging by the nostril for smartphone knowledge haven’t thought of the extra use case of a pocket book. Some carriers think about ACPCs as tablets (eg a smartphone plan with out calls), and find yourself very restrictive in an identical means. My native service needs to cost an extra +50% monthly so as to add an extra ‘data-only line’, however then doesn’t enable me to pool knowledge, requiring micromanagement in 500 MB chunks. In talking with the carriers up to now couple of months, this fashion of doing issues isn’t going to vary quickly. The perspective I bought was that they’re snug extracting important coin from these keen to pay. On prime of that, when focusing to the business market, these are firm prices and never private prices, that are much less prone to be below the identical penny-for-penny scrutiny.

So though Qualcomm’s advertising focus for the ACPC has shifted barely, from the related PC to the all-day workhouse, the purpose has at all times been clear: if we will present {that a} related PC turns into an important part of an organization workforce, it’s a buyer for all times. As soon as related, at all times related.

My final severe effort to make use of an ACPC was the Lenovo Yoga C630 WoS, a Snapdragon 850 design in mid-2019. I’ll be sincere, the battery life was the most important plus. It was mild, simple to make use of, and nice for occasions if I wanted one thing simply to work, and was assured to not require charging day-to-day. I might be at a 3-day convention on a single cost – a cost I’d completed at house earlier than getting on the airplane to get there. However there have been efficiency points, significantly when shifting between purposes, which I do typically and regularly – the 8 GB of reminiscence and 256 GB storage was gazumped on day one. A few of my software program needed to be emulated, whereas different essential purposes in my workflow failed outright, as they have been area of interest 64-bit solely software program that had no equal. Past that, Dropbox was restricted to Home windows S performance, and the enterprise model of Google Drive wouldn’t even work. That in the end put me again into the land of x86. Repair these points, and Qualcomm would rope me again in. That is the place the brand new Qualcomm Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3 matches in.

Qualcomm’s New Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3, with 64-bit Emulation on Win11

At this yr’s Snapdragon Tech Summit in early December, Qualcomm introduced its subsequent technology ACPC processor, the 8cx Gen 3. With this new processor we must always anticipate extra efficiency, huge availability, but it surely additionally comes alongside one other important replace. All 8cx Gen 3 machines will ship with Home windows 11 as customary, and this model of Home windows will help 64-bit emulation of x86 software program out of the field. The purpose right here is that any software program an influence person wants, it ought to work on this new technology.

The emulation help on Home windows 11 can also be regressive for a few generations – any system with a Snapdragon 8cx or newer processor will help it. The explanation why it’s taken so lengthy, in line with Qualcomm’s Miguel Nunes, isn’t a lot that the instruction emulation was exhausting – the toughest half was coping with the swathes of dangerous software program accessible out there. In our conversations with each Miguel Nunes and Alex Katouzian, the perpetrator limiting the roll-out was dangerous software program – software program that calls unregistered DLLs, or are hardcoded to sure 32-bit directories regardless of being 64-bit, or software program that hundreds beta libraries and such. Qualcomm says that that is now in a predominantly solved state, and we look ahead to testing.

(Some would possibly surprise if Home windows 11 had something to do with it, however Qualcomm informed us it didn’t. There was an insider model of Home windows 10 that additionally has full emulation, however the concept have a holistic minimize between Home windows 10 and Home windows 11 makes supporting the function rather a lot simpler we’re informed. All 8cx and newer {hardware} is Home windows 11 suitable, with the one query being whether or not customers will really trouble to improve. Personally I believe this delineation, if it does assist managing updates to the function, is probably going transfer to keep away from long run technical debt throughout two variations of Home windows.)

As for the brand new processor, the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3 is heralded by the corporate as the primary 5nm processor to help Home windows. I believe they’re right in selling that assertion, which by the way is printed alongside two important datapoints: As much as 85% sooner CPU and +60% GPU over the earlier technology. These are large jumps.

On the coronary heart of the 8cx Gen 3 is a 4+4 core design, that includes 4 Arm Cortex X1 cores at 3.0 GHz and 4 A78 cores at 2.4 GHz. In comparison with the earlier technology, that is +2 generations of Arm core for efficiency and a distinct tier solely for the effectivity core.












Snapdragon ACPC Silicon
AnandTech SD

835
SD

850
8cx

Gen 1
8cx

Gen 2
8cx

Gen 3
Node 10LPE 10LPP N7 N7 5nm
Prime Cores 4 x A73

2.60 GHz
4 x A75

2.95 GHz
4 x A76

2.84 GHz
4 x A76

3.15 GHz
4 x X1

3.00 GHz
Effectivity Cores 4 x A53

1.80 GHz
4 x A55

1.80 GHz
4 x A55

1.80 GHz
4 x A55

1.80 GHz
4 x A78

1.80 GHz
GPU Adreno 540

710 MHz
Adreno 630

710 MHz
Adreno 680

585 MHz
Adreno 690

660 MHz
Adreno

8cx Gen 3
AI Hexagon 682 Hexagon 685 Hexagon 690 Hexagon 690 Hexagon 8cx Gen 3
Complete TOPs 3 9 9 29
LPDDR4X 2 x 32-bit

3733 MT/s

29.9 GB/s
4 x 16-bit

3733 MT/s

29.9 GB/s
8 x 16-bit

4267 MT/s

86.3 GB.s
8 x 16-bit

4267 MT/s

86.3 GB/s
8 x 16-bit

4267 MT/s

86.3 GB/s

Whichever means you narrow it, shifting from A76 to X1 on the efficiency cores and A55 to A78 on the effectivity cores is a bounce, and that ‘as much as 85%’ CPU efficiency feels like metric. Alongside these numbers, the chip additionally comes with a 14 MB complete cache construction, which is 8 MB of L3 cache and 6 MB of system cache, the latter of which is used extra as a DRAM buffer to speed up fast accesses.

Sadly Qualcomm was close to silent on its new Adreno implementation, to the purpose of additionally refusing to offer it a designation. On prime of this, it’s price noting that Qualcomm doesn’t really record what the structure cores in any of its public supplies – it wasn’t till a Q&A session on the Tech Summit when the cores have been really given, and solely when the express query was straight requested. It appears this was unintentional, as we didn’t get the small print even in a 1-on-1 briefing. The frequencies have been a part of the presentation, however briefly. With this in thoughts, mixed with the shortage of generational numbers on the Adreno and Hexagon shifting ahead, plainly Qualcomm is coming into a section of obfuscation when it comes right down to disseminating its {hardware} specs. If you happen to’ve heard this story earlier than, it’s very paying homage to Qualcomm pre-2016. A part of that is right down to, or at the very least as we see it, a brand new advertising technique the place the corporate is focusing extra on ‘the expertise’ relatively than the technical particulars. It does really feel stretched that this info wasn’t a part of the presentation, not whilst an auxiliary facet observe, as a part of the Qualcomm ‘Tech’ Summit. For each firm that states they’re focusing extra on the expertise than the specs, my response may be very poor – a big portion of our viewers, both engineers, energy customers, fans, or monetary analysts and people seeking to disseminate the route of the business needs to know these items. Not the whole lot revolves round what a possible end-user, such my grandma, a possible end-user, would possibly expertise, even when the extra public-facing advertising is directed that means.

Qualcomm is claiming that the SoC affords +25% efficiency at 25% decrease energy than the x86 competitors, with a 60% higher performance-per-watt on CPU and 40% performance-per-watt on GPU. Precise metrics weren’t disclosed, however Qualcomm did level to software program akin to Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom which have now been optimized for Adreno on Home windows. On prime of those numbers, Qualcomm is quoting 30% higher battery than competing platforms, which for a 16hr flagship Intel system would put it at 22 hours. In my thoughts that seems like a slight regression, which is perhaps indicative that the A78 cores in idle eat extra energy than the A55 cores did, even with the method node enchancment. At that degree, different {hardware} comes into play as nicely, such because the show and wi-fi connectivity.

For wi-fi connectivity, the 8cx Gen 3 has in-built Wi-Fi 6E by the FastConnect 6900, but in addition a spread of 5G options: both the X65 at 10 Gbps DL, the X55 at 7.5 Gbps DL, or the X62 at 4.4 Gbps DL. On first studying, this feels like there are three silicon designs, one for every modem. Nonetheless I believe we’re coping with a single silicon design, and the modem delineations are merely a perform of what license the OEM is keen to pay mixed with no matter RF entrance finish circuitry the OEM can also be keen to pay for. For a price down system for instance, the X62 at half velocity is perhaps higher suited, or for markets the place X65 affords no further worth it would make sense to allow an X55 variant as a substitute.

Different features embrace AI acceleration, which Qualcomm is quoting a 3x enhance from 9 TOPs to 29 TOPs within the new chip. Notice that that is CPU+GPU+Hexagon mixed, which is unlikely to exist inside the similar software program – talking to Qualcomm, they are saying that totally different software program can use totally different segments to get good asynchronous efficiency. The AI is about for use for digicam and video dwell processing, in addition to echo cancellation and noise suppression. It’s clear that Qualcomm wish to rival one thing like RTX Voice however in a a lot decrease energy envelope. One in every of my criticisms of RTX Voice is that I can’t course of pre-recorded audio by it with no full play-back and a suggestions loop, so when requested, Qualcomm confirmed that content material creators will be capable of post-process video and audio for noise cancellation.

On safety, the 8cx Gen 3 would be the first Home windows-focused processor with built-in Microsoft Pluton. Pluton is a superset of conventional TPM options, enabling root-of-trust and firmware authentication, doubtlessly augmented with Microsoft Cloud primarily based environments. I’d be remiss if I didn’t state that because the announcement, there have been some deep criticisms of Pluton as a basic idea, tying it to an working system vendor, and being a possible single level of failure for private privateness relying on how it’s carried out, particularly exterior the US. All the foremost Home windows silicon corporations are dedicated to hardware-based Pluton options long run, so it relies upon how a lot you think about these criticisms are legitimate, inevitable for the broader populace, or one thing that may collectively be addressed. On prime of Pluton, we even have Layered Safe Boot, actual time reminiscence encryption, and Qualcomm’s Trusted Execution Surroundings.

We should always anticipate to see 8cx Gen 3 {hardware} come to market early subsequent yr. Nonetheless, the large story is but to return.

Qualcomm x Nuvia, Sampling 2022, {Hardware} 2023

In March 2021, Qualcomm acquired Nuvia, a server CPU startup engaged on its first core design. Nuvia’s lead engineers herald from the silicon design groups at Apple and Google, with the lead architect having been the lead architect at Apple throughout its M1 growth section. Qualcomm acquired Nuvia with the purpose of making {hardware} to not solely compete, however demolish, the Home windows market of its incumbents.

On the time of the acquisition, the messaging was that the server core Nuvia was designing could be repurposed for Qualcomm’s ACPC efforts, with silicon due in 2022 for merchandise in 2023. The corporate reiterated that very same timeline at its Analyst occasion in late November, and on the Tech Summit. When talking as to if the Nuvia staff have been making a single efficiency core, a sequence of cores for efficiency/effectivity, or the important thing elements of the SoC, I didn’t actually get a straight reply. That was maybe to be anticipated, on condition that we’re nonetheless virtually a yr away – I believe one of many Tech Summit December 2022 highlights subsequent yr shall be this new Nuvia chip. Nonetheless it does appear like that Nuvia is initially making a single core for the primary iteration, counting on common Cortex designs if the SoC goes to be a heterogeneous design (we anticipate it is going to be).



Picture from @anshelsag on Twitter, Used with permission

With a number of hype about Nuvia and the credentials of the staff behind it (I apologize, I’m most likely liable for an quantity of that hype), we’re on this type of limbo state ready for the fruits of that acquisition to return by. The 8cx Gen 3 shall be platform displaying an uptick in efficiency and leveraging 64-bit emulation on Home windows 11, however the expectation is that Nuvia’s core design will amplify that efficiency up one other step. Precisely the place it can match in comparison with Intel or Apple is de facto exhausting to say at this level, and we’re going to have to attend to subsequent yr. Which makes recommending an 8cx Gen 3 platform in 2022 tough on condition that on each assessment, we’ll have to write down a caveat of ‘be careful for the Nuvia designs coming 2023’.

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