Qualcomm's Snapdragon 8cx for Laptops: Everything You Need to Know

Editors' Note: Updated at 5:20 p.m. ET with additional information throughout the story.

WAILEA, Hawaii — The day after releasing a 7-nanometer processing platform for mobile smartphones with the Snapdragon 855, Qualcomm is doing the same for always-connected PCs. Unveiled today (Dec. 6) at the chip maker's Snapdragon Tech Summit in Hawaii, the Snapdragon 8cx promises more processing power and better battery life for connected Windows notebooks.

With the 8cx platform, Qualcomm is promising the fastest Snapdragon ever, while at the same time delivering multi-day battery life and multi-gigabit connectivity. "Everything is faster and better, and all this while staying focused on user experiences," said Miguel Nunes, a senior director of product management at Qualcomm, as he detailed the 8cx's features.

That will be welcome news for people who've tried out previous generations of always-connected PCs and found both performance and battery life wanting. Even the Snapdragon 850-powered Galaxy Book 2 was still sluggish compared to machines with Intel chips. And while the battery life on that machine was better than average, it didn't deliver the promised endurance.

One key difference with the Snapdragon 8cx is that it's been built specifically with laptops in mind, and has been in development for several years. Previous Qualcomm processors for always-connected PCs have been variations on its smartphone mobile platform.

While the Snapdragon 8cx is a successor to the Snapdragon 850, don't expect that earlier platform to disappear. Instead, Qualcomm sees the two processing platforms as two distinct tiers of products, with the 8cx aimed at the premium computing tier and the 850 powering more mainstream notebooks. Driving that point home, much of today's presentation centered around how Snapdragon 8cx-powered devices will fit into workplace settings.

Qualcomm expects that the Snapdragon 8cx will start appearing in thin-and-light devices in the third quarter of 2019. Here's what you can expect from the processor when it makes its debut.

Performance enhancements

To provide the promised boosts to performance, Qualcomm has made changes to both the Kryo CPU and Adreno GPU on the Snapdragon 8cx. The chip maker says the Kryo is the fastest CPU it's ever built, featuring four performance cores and four cores designed for efficiency. The new processor features a larger cache with a total of 10MB available, designed to speed up multitasking on Snapdragon 8cx-powered machines.

As for the Adreno 680 GPU on the Snapdragon 8cx, Qualcomm says that it's 2x faster than the previous generation and 3.5x faster than what was available in the Snapdragon 835 that powered the first-generation of always-on PCs. According to Nunes, the new GPU has twice as many transistors, two times the memory bandwidth and the latest Direct X12 API.

Qualcomm says it doubled the memory interface on the Snapdragon 8cx to 128-bit wide. The result should be better graphics for users, whether they're creating or consuming content on a Snapdragon 8cx machine.

Boosts to battery

The improvements made to the Snapdragon 8cx's components weren't made with just performance in mind. Qualcomm also says it emphasized lower power consumption. The Adreno 680 GPU may deliver twice the performance as the Snapdragon 850, but it's doing so while using up 60 percent less power.  The 8cx will "consume less power on the same graphic workloads than the previous generation," Nunes said.

Qualcomm's marketing materials promise multi-day battery life for the Snapdragon 8cx. That translates to 25-plus hours of premium computing, according to a Qualcomm rep we talked to. That translates to a fraction of the power consumed by Intel's U Series, and it should also be more efficient than Y Series chips, too, Qualcomm said.

A demo area set up outside the 8cx's unveiling showed off a reference design using the new processor as it made its way through a typical day of web surfing, productivity apps, and commuting to and from work while staying connected to LTE. In that demo, Qualcomm said that a fully charged laptop would still have 50 percent battery life after a 13-and-a-half-hour day — a pretty bold claim that we're hoping to test once the Snapdragon 8cx laptops start arriving in 2019.

When it is time to charge, you should be able to do so more quickly. The Snapdragon 8cx supports Qualcomm's Quick Charge 4+ fast-charging technology.

Connectivity and other features

When it comes to keeping those connected PCs online, the 8cx platform will use Qualcomm's Snapdragon X24 LTE modem. That modem is capable of delivering 2 Gbps speeds, at least where there are mobile networks that support that kind of throughput. And where's there's non-gigabit LTE, Qualcomm says the X24 can still improve throughput by 70 percent.

It may seem off-message for Qualcomm to be turning to an LTE modem for its computing platform at the same event where it's spent two days trumpeting the arrival of the faster 5G networking standard. That will come to always-connected PCs down the road, says Qualcomm, which is content to have the 8cx rely on LTE for its connectivity.

"[5G] is coming to this form factor," Qualcomm senior vice president of compute products Sanjay Mehta said. "You'll see it 2019."

Other notable features with the Snapdragon 8cx include support for second-generation USB 3.1 Type-C and third-generation PCI-E. You'll be able to connect up to two 4K HDR monitors to your Snapdragon 8cx-equipped machine. Indeed, in the demo area, a Snadragon 8cx reference design machine was hooked up two displays via its USB Type-C ports.

The Snapdragon 8cx includes an integrated AI engine and support for 4K HDR video playback at 120 frames per second. Support for Qualcomm's Aqstic audio technology  and its assorted audio codecs should allow for high-fidelity sound even over Bluetooth. The Snapdragon 8cx also includes support for multiple assistants, including Cortana and Alexa.

On the enterprise front, the Snapdragon 8cx has won Windows 10 Enterprise certification, the first time the Snapdragon platform has received that designation. That speaks to the 8cx’s security features while underscoring Qualcomm’s intentions to make position this new chipset as the engine for premium devices.