Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 850 PC chip boosts performance and brings battery life to a new level

Computers with Qualcomm's first generation Snapdragon PC processor had performance issues while delivering incredible battery life throughout the day. Qualcomm has addressed these problems with the new Snapdragon 850, which adds 30 percent more performance and extends its already incredible battery life by another 20 percent to what it now calls "several days" longevity.

If I expected this second generation of Always Connected The PCs (ACPC) that will be powered by the Snapdragon 845 Qualcomm were screened last year, you will be forgiven. But that chip was designed specifically for phones, while the new 850 – with a 2.95GHz Kryo CPU – was optimized for PCs, said Miguel Nunes, senior director of product management at Qualcomm, before the Computex trade show in Taipei.

What makes Snapdragon 850 PCs special is reduced to three numbers: 30 percent more performance (including graphics) than Snapdragon 835, with 20 percent longer battery life and 20 percent more one hundred plus gigabit LTE speed. For example, the first-generation Asus NovaGo ACPC using the Snapdragon 835 yielded 17 hours, 22 minutes of battery life in our tests. With the Snapdragon 850, about 21 hours of battery life seems to be within reach. For a PC .

Expect Qualcomm to announce at least one hardware partner to ship a Snapdragon 850 PC over the holidays, Nunes said. The most likely choices were among the three that committed to PCs using the existing Snapdragon 835: Asus, HP and Lenovo. But it will not be: Samsung appeared on stage to announce that it will have a new ACPC platform later this year.

Why this is important: Remember that a number of problems delayed the first PCs using Snapdragon processors, including compilations with Windows 10 errors, application compatibility and performance issues with the translation of applications. Some of those problems remain. But the basic premise of a PC always connected has always been the fantastic battery life, the excellent connectivity and the almost instantaneous resumption, all the requirements that the first generation PCs knew perfectly. Apparently, Snapdragon 850 PCs will improve these, while Microsoft and Qualcomm will correct some of the application's problems.

  Qualcomm snapdragon 850 specifications Qualcomm

Qualcomm is not saying much about the Snapdragon 850, but here are some basic specifications.

Snapdragon 850 from Qualcomm optimizes performance

With Snapdragon processors, Qualcomm adopts a slightly different tactic than what it is used to on PCs. "With these PCs always connected, our goal was to test and bring those smart phone capabilities to the PC and hopefully change the way people look and use their computers," said Nunes.

If necessary, Intel can solve problems such as the IA its powerful Core processors. Qualcomm's legacy as a mobile chip provider requires dedicated logic blocks to solve specific problems, and the Snapdragon 850 is no exception: Nunes said his company has worked closely with Microsoft to accelerate Microsoft's new AI API, Windows ML, within of a dedicated artificial intelligence block inside the chip.

  Qualcomm snapdragon 850 mobile calculation platform front design reference Qualcomm

A reference design from Qualcomm showing the Snapdragon 850.

Like the 835, the Snapdragon 850 is a part of 10nm, which means that Qualcomm had to find other ways beyond a mere shrinkage to improve performance. It did so by increasing the clock speed of the Snapdragon 835 from 2.6GHz to 2.95GHz within the Kryo 385 CPU of 850, while improving the dedicated logic blocks for audio and video, which add 4K capture capabilities with the 850 generation. The GPU is the Adreno 630, which first appeared on the Snapdragon 845.

  Qualcomm snapdragon 850 perf metrics Qualcomm

The other piece of puzzle connectivity has also improved, with additional support for the LTE spectrum that will allow almost all global operators to deploy Snapdragon PCs with gigabit speeds. One of the keys is the compatibility with additional bands that will improve the connectivity when the PC is at the limit of the reach of the cellular tower, explained Nunes.

Nunes also promised that the ACPC will support 5G next year and Qualcomm will "lead in that category".

Some of the capabilities of the Snapdragon 850 make more sense within the context of the 845, designed for Android phones. A good example would be the Spectra 280 image signal processor, whose capabilities, described in detail here, are best suited for video playback and capture capabilities of smartphones. But Nunes said that with more users opting to archive videoconferences and other videos aired, the company saw value in including it against the playback-optimized version of the Spectra included in the Snapdragon 835.

  Qualcomm Snapdragon 850 modem edge Qualcomm

Improved cellular capabilities mean that Snapdragon 850 should work better in the field, promises Qualcomm.

Similarly, the shallowness of most ultrabooks and tablets means that you are not likely to see much benefit from the combination of Qualcomm Audio Aqstic and aptX, at least when it comes to external speakers. Although the audio logic supports both high dynamic range and low noise level, only the headphones will reveal the real nuances of the music played through the chip. Qualcomm Aqstic supports standard 3.5 mm jacks and USB-C ports.

Software remains the real obstacle

However, anyone who has ever used a first generation connected PC knows that the hardware is usually delivered to Qualcomm. promises, the performance of the application was generally delayed. Windows would not accept any 64-bit application, period. Any 32-bit application not written specifically for the ARM architecture that used the Snapdragon chip, such as the x86 instruction set used by AMD and Intel chips, was translated automatically. The translated applications could run in Windows 10 Pro, but the performance could be affected because the application was not running natively.

  Asus NovaGo Qualcomm Ultrabook Snapdragon Mobile PC Platform Mark Hachman / IDG

Asus built Asus NovaGo around the first generation Snapdragon 835. Will we see another?

Several things will have to happen for PCs powered by Snapdragon chips to improve. More application developers must code their applications to the ARM architecture. Qualcomm must increase the performance of Snapdragon PC processors to overcome the translation penalty. Microsoft also has to step up and provide an SDK to allow 64-bit applications. At the recent Build conference, Microsoft did just that, publicly releasing a 64-bit preview SDK for the Snapdragon ARM64 architecture.

That still leaves some obstacles for Qualcomm and its partners. Qualcomm needs to offer a processor faster than its competition for applications that need to be translated, such as Google's Chrome browser. Nunes said there is a lot of "badly written software" that does not take advantage of the full capabilities of Snapdragon.

However, for every application that Windows runs natively, including Edge, Mail, the Office suite, and more, Qualcomm Snapdragon 850 is on equal footing. Nunes added that Qualcomm will participate in the long term, comparing it with a marathon. It seems that in the next few years you will be able to choose between powerful laptops and optimized PCs.

This story was updated on June 4 with additional details after the Qualcomm press conference in Taiwan.

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