Qualcomm 8cx SoC steps up for the next Always Connected PCs

You may remember the Always Connected PCs we talked up a while ago. Those lean notebooks promised competent computing performance paired with constant cellular connectivity and particularly long battery life. Those machines were based on Qualcomm's Snapdragon 835—in other words, a smartphone SoC for laptop work. Qualcomm has now decided to up the ante with its next designed-for-laptops chip, the Snapdragon 8cx.

The company says this is the biggest SoC it's ever produced, and it aims for its partners to use it in always-online machines with multiple-day battery life—quite the bold claim. The 8cx is built on a 7-nm process, and its centerpiece is the Kryo 495 CPU. According to Android Authority, the processor uses four customized Cortex-A76 performance cores along with four tweaked Cortex-A55 power-sipping tickers. The Kryo 495 reportedly has 10 MB of cache in total, and it should hook up to as much as 16 GB of LPDDR4X RAM. There's also support for UFS 3.0 and NVMe SSDs on tap.

Going by Android Authority's reporting, Qualcomm claims the Kryo 495 rivals an unspecified Intel U-series chip for performance in an unspecified workload at a 7-W TDP, but does so at much lower power consumption and without a fan. This comparison is a little difficult to square, as Intel's lowest configurable-TDP-down on a Core i5 U-series part of late is 10 W, and the only parts the blue team rates for 7-W TDPs at all are its Y-series CPUs in their configurable-TDP-up trim. Instead of trying to figure out Qualcomm's vague and buzzy performance claims, we'd just wait until reviewers get devices in hand to see how this SoC actually performs.

Qualcomm claims the Adreno 680 GPU inside the 8cx is 3.5 times as fast as that of the Snapdragon 835 mobile SoC of yore, and twice as speedy as the Adreno 630 in the last-gen, high-power Snapdragon 850. Up to two 4K HDR displays at 60 Hz can run off this new pixel-pusher, too. Otherwise, the 8cx packs what's presumably the same Hexagon 690 neural network processor and X24 modem present in the recently-announced Snapdragon 855. The X24 modem offers download speeds of up to 2 Gbps, again a welcome figure to ensure that "always connected" doesn't mean "always dragging." Additionally, the 8cx also offers support for USB 3.1 Gen2 connectivity. 802.11ad-capable WiFi, aptX HD audio, and Amazon Alexa integration round out the main list of specs.

We figure that these machines will live and die by their software support, and Qualcomm's presentation displayed a fair amount of well-known logos, though the company didn't go into too much detail about its software partnerships other than pointing out that it's worked with Mozilla to make an ARM64 multi-threaded version of Firefox, and, naturally, with Microsoft, who'll bring Windows 10 Enterprise to 8cx-based machines.

Although we'd wager that batteries inside these newfangled notebooks are bound to be relatively small compared to those in conventional laptops, they nevertheless should top up pretty fast thanks to the 8cx's support of Qualcomm's Quick Charge 4+ protocol. Qualcomm didn't spell out loud when we'll see the new generation of Always Connected laptops, but CES 2019 is just around the corner, so you take a guess.

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