Qualcomm has dipped its toe in the waters of desktop computing previously, but it was leaning on mobile-optimized parts. That will change going forward — Qualcomm believes that the move to ARM architectures in computers is inevitable, and it wants to be ready with new, more powerful processors.
The first notebook chips from Qualcomm appeared in 2017, but uptake has been slow. Only a handful of Windows machines have used the Snapdragon 7c and 8c platforms, and usage on the Chromebook side is only slightly better. It’s not hard to see why Qualcomm has been slow to gain market share, as most Windows apps aren’t built for ARM, and these CPU cores are based on mobile designs. Current x86 processors are just faster. Now, Qualcomm is ready to talk about what comes next as it targets notebooks.
Qualcomm began laying the groundwork for this change almost a year ago when it announced the acquisition of CPU startup Nuvia for $1.7 billion. That team has gone on to design a new generation of ARM-based CPU cores that Qualcomm will use to compete directly against Intel, AMD, and Apple. We don’t know what manufacturing process Qualcomm is expecting to use, but 5nm seems likely based on timing. Current flagship parts are 5nm, but there’s a chance Nuvia could be working with 3nm in mind. Qualcomm previously said it expected to manufacture the first 3nm chips in the second half of 2022.
We know from past ARM products that it should be possible to revamp the CPU for computer workloads with the help of Nuvia engineers. Apple has succeeded in doing that, but it has also made impressive strides in GPU performance. The M1 Max can rival mobile RTX 3060 GPUs in some tests. That might be more challenging for Qualcomm. It says the existing Adreno mobile GPU will be scaled up to desktop levels but doesn’t explain how that will work. However, it did get Adreno from ATI (now part of AMD), so some of that team has experience with desktop computing.
As the new Qualcomm chips begin appearing, we probably won’t see as much overlap between mobile and personal computer Snapdragon chips. The Nuvia CPU cores will be tailored to the kind of computing workloads people expect on a computer rather than a phone, and they’ll probably need more power. However, it doesn’t rule out that Nuvia cores could occasionally appear in other devices like cars, servers, and maybe even mobile devices.
The company will make these chips available as manufacturing samples in August 2022, and we could see devices with updated Qualcomm systems-on-a-chip (SoC) in early 2023.
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