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Hands on: Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8cx reference laptop is a fresh attempt to be faster

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The Qualcomm Snapdragon 8cx is the chip the company hopes will scale the performance mountain, reaching the heights that competing Intel Core chips have already surmounted. After trying it at Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Technology Summit in Maui, we can say it seems promising.

As we learned Thursday morning, the Snapdragon 8cx was designed as a ground-up, optimized design specifically for laptops. Its mission is to achieve performance comparable to that of an Intel U-series Core i5 chip.

Qualcomm supplied a limited number of Snapdragon 8cx reference notebooks at the event, all running Windows 10 Pro. We tried to navigate to one of the web-based benchmarks we’ve used to test previous Snapdragon PCs, but we were told that benchmarking wasn’t allowed. In part, that’s because the clock speeds of the chip haven’t been formally determined.

We were nevertheless able to take a look at three things: the overall responsiveness of the Snapdragon 8cx platform, and two browsers: a Firefox Nightly build optimized for ARM64 chips like the 8cx, as well as a first look at the Chromium (not Google Chrome!) open-source browser that Qualcomm is helping develop. 

(For a closer look at the challenges facing Qualcomm as it pursues Intel, check out my colleague Gordon Mah Ung’s video, which compares Intel and Qualcomm chips in a pretty unique shootout.) 

Plain-jane hardware

Because Qualcomm’s a chip company, we didn’t expect to see much in the way of unique hardware—and we didn’t. The reference notebook was a fairly standard touchscreen convertible (360-degree hinge), with a pair of USB-C ports along the side. That’s a plus, because the first Snapdragon-based Asus NovaGo used a proprietary charger. 

8cx reference notebook side Mark Hachman / IDG

The SIM slot on the side of the 8cx reference notebook.

The other side of the laptop included a SIM slot. While the initial Snapdragon 8cx machines will be built around LTE, they’ll eventually gain 5G capabilities, Qualcomm executives said.

Snappy and responsive

Qualcomm set up demo stations to show the 8cx in action. In the video below, you’ll see some basic work with media-heavy sites and YouTube. Elsewhere in the demo room, Qualcomm employees loaded up the new ARM64-optimized Firefox browser as well as Edge, alongside Photoshop, then navigated back and forth, scrolling up and down. 

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