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Qualcomm Snapdragon 7c and 8c compute platforms are set to challenge budget notebooks

By Vijay Anand - on 6 Dec 2019, 12:12pm

Qualcomm Snapdragon 7c and 8c compute platforms are set to challenge budget notebooks

Exactly a year back, Qualcomm challenged AMD and Intel’s dominance in the notebook segment with their most powerful processor ever developed - the Snapdragon 8cx Compute Platform. Since then, Qualcomm chalked up some successful design wins, most notably a speedier custom version of the Snapdragon 8cx that ended up as the Microsoft SQ1 powering Microsoft’s modern Surface Pro X. Now, Qualcomm outs more compute platform options to ensure there is a Snapdragon for everyone at more price points.

Like the Snapdragon 8cx, Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon 8c and Snapdragon 7c are made to deliver the same experiences such as all-day and multi-day battery life, super-fast cellular connectivity and always-on, always-connected, instant-on responsiveness. While the Snapdragon 8cx is a competent contender in the notebook market, its feature set and performance tier meant that notebooks based on it are going to be a little pricey. For Qualcomm to snatch a greater pie in the notebook market, it needed more options and to bring down the price of the notebook. Thus the Snapdragon 8cx takes the premium tier offering, while the 8c and 7c parts take the mainstream and entry-level tiers.

The goal of the newer options? To rejuvenate the US$500 notebook market with more modern capabilities and experiences and to never settle for mediocre.

You can probably easily guess who they are throwing shade at.

 

Upgrading entry-level PCs

The Snapdragon 7c Compute Platform is the new entry-level computing option from Qualcomm, but considering its over 5 trillion operations per second (TOPS) AI performance, it is redefining what entry-level is. So while the 8cx flagship goes up against an Intel Core i5 processor class systems, how powerful is the Snapdragon 7c? Qualcomm says that it’s supposed to bring a 25% performance uplift over similarly priced notebooks, which sounds quite compelling.

Not to forget, up to twice the battery life of competing platforms plus lightning-fast connectivity via the Snapdragon X15 LTE modem. Underneath the hood, you’ll find an Octa-core Qualcomm Kryo 468 CPU and Qualcomm Adreno 618 GPU are designed to deliver responsive performance with incredible battery life in the entry-tier. Over in the storage department, the Snapdragon 7c will only support UFS storage, and dual-channel memory.

Now, these subsystem model numbers on their own don’t mean much, but cross-referencing against an existing mobile processor in their stack, the Snapdragon 7c matches up with the mid-high-tier Snapdragon 730 mobile platform featuring the same GPU, modem and a fairly similar CPU model too. Meanwhile, what we do know is that the Kyro 468 CPU configuration is dual ARM Cortex A76 performance cores six ARM Cortex-A55 efficiency cores. While Qualcomm didn’t explicitly mention the process node used to manufacture the Snapdragon 7c (unlike the other models), we’ve reason to believe that it could be using an 8nm process node just like the Snapdragon 730.

A reference notebook based on the Snapdragon 7c Compute Platform and supplied by Compal.

At this tier, Qualcomm doesn’t expect any OEM would pair it with 5G connectivity options, and thus there is no support for it. A speedy Snapdragon X15 LTE modem should suffice for most needs.

Further to that, Qualcomm is also offering a modular platform option with the Snapdragon 7c System-in-Package for vendors who want to fast track their notebook designs to the market with pre-validated components and lower development costs (just like the modular options for the Snapdragon 865 and 765 mobile platforms).

 

Redefining the mainstream notebook market

Moving up a notch, the Snapdragon 8c Compute Platform shares a lot more in common with the bigger Snapdragon 8cx, such as their 7nm manufacturing process, pro-notebook level features like faster and wider memory bandwidth (quad-channel), high-speed storage in the form of NVME SSD and UFS 3.0, and Qualcomm’s X24 LTE modem for gigabit-class downlinks up to 2Gbps to deliver a thin, light, powerful and always-connected PC. But the similarities don’t stop there; here’s a table that captures all the key differences between Snapdragon 7c, 8c and 8cx:-

Snapdragon Compute Platforms compared
  Snapdragon 7c Snapdragon 8c Snapdragon 8cx
Process technology 8nm 7nm 7nm
CPU Kyro 468 (octa-core) Kyro 490 (octa-core) Kyro 495 (octa-core)
GPU Adreno 618 Adreno 675 Adreno 680
ISP Spectra 255 Spectra 390 Spectra 390
DSP (AI) Hexagon 692 DSP Hexagon 690 DSP Hexagon 690 DSP
Modem Qualcomm X15 LTE Qualcomm X24 LTE Qualcomm X24 LTE
5G support No Yes, optional Yes, optional
Memory support dual-channel quad-channel quad-channel
Storage support UFS 3.0 & eMMC 5.1 UFS 3.0 & NVMe UFS 3.0 & NVMe

As you can clearly see here, the Snapdragon 7c is a true entry-level part, while the Snapdragon 8c was directly derived from the 8cx. Like the Snapdragon 8cx step-up model, the Snapdragon 8c also supports 5G connectivity integration into the notebook if required.

So how powerful is the Snapdragon 8c? Qualcomm states it's up to 30% speedier than the Snapdragon 850, powering multi-tasking and productivity, while its Qualcomm AI engine churns out over 6 TOPS AI performance. Perhaps it’s pegging itself to a Core i3 machine?

 

An enterprise edition of the Snapdragon 8cx

Building upon the world’s first 7nm PC platform, the Snapdragon 8cx, the new Snapdragon 8cx Enterprise Compute Platform delivers next-generation capabilities to the modern workplace. Most of its features are quite similar to the standard Snapdragon 8cx except that the enterprise edition has security baked all through, optimized system performance and connected security software to bring an additional level of performance and security to complement the best-in-class  performance, battery life, and extreme connectivity of Snapdragon 8cx to drive an ever more productive workforce and enhanced data security. The Snapdragon 8cx Enterprise Compute Platform is one of the few to be certified for Windows Secure-core PC.

Multi-screen, high-resolution display output with a standard Snapdragon 8cx based machine is a cinch.

The real difference with the Snapdragon 8cx Enterprise edition when incorporated within the secured modern office.

Seen here is a Microsoft project utilising Qualcomm's AI engine that would rollout publicly sometime in 2020. What this demo shows is the AI engine assessing the foreground and background elements so that you could choose to hide the background on the fly. This is already possible using the CPU or GPU in many desktop class systems, but at this level of hardware, the CPU/GPU route cannot give you a smooth video call framerate. Using Qualcomm's AI engine, it's possible to do it smoothly and consume far less power too.