AI PC Era Edges Closer as Qualcomm Readies Snapdragon X Series for Take-off

  • Qualcomm has launched the Snapdragon X Plus platform, setting a high benchmark for the first AI PCs to be launched in 2024.
  • The Snapdragon X Plus is the second chip under the Snapdragon X series, which was announced in October 2023 as the company’s flagship ARM-based processor for Windows PCs.
  • The biggest talking point of the Snapdragon X series is on-device AI capabilities. At 45 NPU TOPS, the two chips are among the most sophisticated AI PC platforms in the market.

Qualcomm Technologies announced the launch of the Snapdragon X Plus platform on April 24. The Snapdragon X Plus is the second chip under the Snapdragon X series, which was announced in October 2023 as the company’s flagship ARM-based processor for Windows PCs. Further, the Snapdragon X Plus is a cut-down version of the Snapdragon X Elite, but both chips boast impressive features, setting high benchmarks for the first AI PCs to be launched in 2024.

CPU: Best in Class in Raw Computing Power, Superior Power Efficiency

Snapdragon X EliteQualcomm Oryon 12 cores, up to 3.8GHz, 42MB cache capacity
Snapdragon X PlusQualcomm Oryon 10 cores, up to 3.4GHz, 42MB cache capacity

Thanks to the Oryon CPU cores, which represent Qualcomm’s first attempt to design its own ARM processor at 64-bit, the Snapdragon X series offers ‘best-in-class’ CPU performance. Qualcomm believes the Snapdragon X Elite and Plus offer 41% and 28% faster CPU performance (multi-threaded) than the competition, respectively. Besides, both can achieve peak PC performance at 48% and 39% less power than the competition. These come down to Qualcomm’s heritage in ARM processor designs which champion users on the move, where optimizing resource efficiency is prioritized. The immediate user experience takeaway will be faster app launch speeds and web browsing, and longer battery life when using productivity and video apps.

Source: Qualcomm

WATCH: “AI PC” Era Beckons with Snapdragon X Elite: Deep Dive with Qualcomm’s Kedar Kondap

GPU: Top Graphics for Immersive Entertainment

Snapdragon X EliteAdreno GPU, up to 4.6 FLOPS
Snapdragon X PlusAdreno GPU, up to 3.8 FLOPS

The Snapdragon X series comes with integrated GPUs capable of running most games consistently at 30-40fps and topping at 60fps. The highest-payload AAA games should be perfectly playable on the GPU, satisfying the needs of most casual gamers. However, we believe Qualcomm will be wary of venturing into the gaming laptop race due to different market dynamics, and different user behavior expectations, such as a much heavier and bulkier form factor, which, more often than not, is plugged into a power source.

Source: Counterpoint Research

Building on the productivity theme, the Snapdragon X series GPUs can support up to three external 4K UHD monitors running at 60Hz. As the boundaries of the office blur and home entertainment requirements become a higher priority, these are important GPU features for the next-generation mobile workstations.

AI: Built-for AI Workloads on the Edge

Snapdragon X EliteHexagon NPU, 45 TOPS
LPDDR5x, with RAM bandwidth of 135GB/s
Capability to run 13B+ parameter models on-device
Generates 30 tokens/sec for 7B LLMs
Snapdragon X Plus

The biggest talking point of the Snapdragon X series is on-device AI capabilities. At 45 NPU TOPS, the two chips are among the most sophisticated AI PC platforms in the market. According to Counterpoint Research’s definition of AI PC, the Snapdragon X series currently is the only platform available in the ‘AI-Advanced Laptop’ segment.

Qualcomm says it is working closely with major app developers (see below), focusing on two areas – delivering a top Windows-on-ARM user experience and scaling up AI features and capabilities. Questions from the industry on AI use cases are growing too loud to ignore, and Qualcomm suggests that a gradual process is underway with app developers to move key processing workloads from the CPU to the NPU. This will open up the opportunity to adopt multi-format models in the future, which can help the device deliver a more personalized user experience through inferencing at the edge.

Source: Qualcomm

Qualcomm demonstrated AI capabilities including real-time translation, image generation (Stable Diffusion) and image editing (GIMP). We felt the most impressive demo was Stable Diffusion, generating 10 images from text prompts at less than a second per frame. Nevertheless, these are well-known AI use cases that are unlikely to move the needle materially for the market.

The upcoming Windows 11 update, expected to be announced in late May, could be the turning point in the AI PC race, as the long-rumored AI Explorer feature will solidify the use case of AI on PCs. In short, AI Explorer (likely activated via Copilot) can help the user track all activities, such as apps, text, webpages, documents, photos and audio, via a searchable memory, using natural language. The Snapdragon X series will be among the first candidates to receive these AI updates.

BONUS VIDEO: On-Device AI on PC: Generate Text and Images Within Seconds

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Product positioning

The Snapdragon X series is aimed at the top end of the laptop space, with the likes of Apple’s M series and Intel’s Core Ultra being considered as key competitors. The Snapdragon X series has a decent edge in absolute performance but a much larger lead in power consumption. We think the key positioning message is a mobile generalist workhorse, capable of heavy-duty creative tasks and future-ready for hybrid and multi-modal AI scenarios.

In addition to the obvious benefits of ARM-based processors, like power consumption, Qualcomm will be keen to highlight the growing gap between traditional x86 CPUs and SoCs as all-inclusive platforms, with the latter offering graphics, audio, connectivity, sensor and security features that are bundled with the Snapdragon X series platform. This opens the opportunity for more heterogenous systems and seamless user experiences in the future, potentially also extending to closer integration between Snapdragon’s PC and mobile platforms.

We think the first batch of Snapdragon X series laptops will be positioned as consumer devices, as we expect x86 to continue to dominate the ‘for business’ laptop segment. As a matter of fact, Microsoft is expected to launch soon both the Surface Pro 10 and Surface Laptop 6 with Intel Core Ultra 5 and 7 and Snapdragon X Elite processors. The Intel models are officially dubbed ‘Surface Pro 10 for business’ and ‘Surface Laptop 6 for business’. We think the first Snapdragon X series laptops will be priced at close to $1,500, but in the medium term, mid-to-high-end AI laptop prices should drop toward the $1,000 level.

What next?

There is a palpable sense of excitement as the AI PC era edges near. May and June 2024 are expected to be busy as players put the final touches on their first AI PC offerings. The Windows 11 update on May 20, the Computex event on June 3 and Apple’s WWDC on June 10 will set the stage for the first innings of the AI PC race. The first AI PCs should go on sale by mid-2024, but shipments should take off only by 2025. By the end of the decade, almost all PCs will be AI PCs. However, between now and then, a lot of work, such as defining new features, creating fundamentally different consumer and business use cases, and more ecosystem support, will need to be undertaken.

In the coming days we will publish a full report on Counterpoint Research’s learning during recent events hosted by Qualcomm, including further analysis on the key selling point, positioning and competitiveness of the Snapdragon X series, and expected market implications in the fledging AI PC sector. We also preview the potential key AI features and use case enhancements that are likely to arrive on the first Qualcomm Snapdragon X series PCs, set to arrive in stores by mid-2024.

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Yang is a Senior Research Analyst at Counterpoint Research, based out of London. Yang has eight years of work experience with particular interest in mobile devices, ecosystems, Emerging Markets, and macro topics that affect the global technology industry like economics, policy and supply chains. Yang started his career as a management trainee at Jardine Matheson, worked in business development at a SaaS startup, and most recently held marketing and research roles at KaiOS Technologies. Yang holds a Master of Science in Management from London Business School, and a Master of Science in Psychology from the University College of London.

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