MacBook Air M3 could be in trouble — this non-Intel chip may blow it away

A hand holding a Qualcomm Snapdragon X Elite chip held in a sealed display case
(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

News around Qualcomm's Snapdragon X Elite chipset has been slowly trickling in over the last few months based on tech demos and leaked benchmarks. Qualcomm's upcoming flagship silicon is aiming to take down Apple's M3 benchmark records, and based on the latest leaks the performance gap between the two chipsets seems to be closing.

In the leaked Geekbench 6.2 scores, spotted by Windows Latest (via TechNewsWorld), the Snapdragon X Elite had a single-core score of 2,574 and a multi-core score of 12,562. 

Our own M3 benchmarks from the Macbook Pro 14 (M3, 2023) had a single-core average of 3,163 and a multi-core score of 11,968. That was the entry-level M3 system with only 8GB of RAM and 512GB of SSD storage. So, if the leaked Geekbench 6 scores for the Snapdragon X Elite are to be believed, the M3 still holds the edge on single-core performance but on multi-core tasks, the Snapdragon X Elite has the edge.

Granted, while Geekbench 6 mostly tests CPU performance, changes in onboard RAM and SSD configurations can impact those performance scores significantly. So without further information on the exact models of Snapdragon X Elite or M3 systems tested, we can only speculate. But it does seem Qualcomm's new chips are closing the performance gap with Apple's custom silicon.

What we know so far

qualcomm snapdragon x elite on laptop

(Image credit: Qualcomm)

In one tech demo via Digital Trends, the Snapdragon X Elite scored 21% higher than Apple's M3. Of course, there are two different thermal profiles of the Snapdragon X Elite, and it's unclear which version was being used during the tech demo.

Based on Qualcomm's statements about the 80W and 23W Snapdragon performance scores, it appears the tech demo pitted the 80W Snapdragon X Elite against the base M3 chip which is a 21-22W chip.

So, if the tech demo used the 80W Snapdragon X chip as we've surmised, the comparison falls apart. A better test would be the 80W Snapdragon X against the M3 Max which has a 78W power consumption rating.

Having spent years in the Laptop Mag testing lab, I tend to be wary of trusting tech demos wholesale as chipmakers always want their silicon to look better than the competitors and there are ways to cheat at Geekbench.

So even if the Digital Trends tech demo was a showdown between the 23W Snapdragon X and the M3, I plan to reserve my judgment until we get the Snapdragon chips into our labs and can run them through Geekbench in a controlled setting.

I'm more inclined to trust the leaked Geekbench scores, but even then, unless you know the exact configuration tested and can confirm it was a clean system, there is plenty that can impact a Geekbench 6 score outside of pure CPU silicon.

As for when we can hope to see those clean Snapdragon scores, Qualcomm's new flagship chipset is expected to launch in "mid-2024." So that could mean we get Windows 12 Snapdragon X Elite systems (if the rumored Windows upgrade actually hits this year). 

The Snapdragon X Elite will launch with onboard AI capabilities with Windows 11 (or 12). According to the latest benchmarks spotted by Tom's Hardware, the Snapdragon X Elite's NPU outperforms the Intel Ultra chips by a significant margin.

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Madeline Ricchiuto
Staff Writer

A former lab gremlin for Tom's Guide, Laptop Mag, Tom's Hardware, and Tech Radar; Madeline has escaped the labs to join Laptop Mag as a Staff Writer. With over a decade of experience writing about tech and gaming, she may actually know a thing or two. Sometimes. When she isn't writing about the latest laptops and AI software, Madeline likes to throw herself into the ocean as a PADI scuba diving instructor and underwater photography enthusiast.