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Qualcomm Snapdragon 8cx vs. Intel Core i5

Intel is under assault. Its long-running tenure as the king of computing CPUs is being shaken at its foundation with hot new competition from AMD in the desktop space and now Qualcomm in the mobile space. Funnily enough, it’s happening in similar fashion too. Where AMD’s Ryzen chips pushed core counts to counter Intel’s strength in single-threaded tasks, Qualcomm is bringing its mobile-orientated octacore Snapdragon SoCs to laptops and tablets with decent onboard graphics. The 8cx is the latest and greatest attempt to topple Intel from its processing throne.

Qualcomm might be a contender in the mobile space, but Always Connected Windows laptops powered by Snapdragon 835 and 850 chips have seen mixed results. Perhaps its new Snapdragon 8cx can prove to be more capable. To find out, we’ve pitted the Snapdragon 8cx versus the Core i5 Intel CPUs to see how they compare.

Both Intel’s and Qualcomm’s chips combine CPU and GPU cores on a single die, so we’ll look at the performance of each segment of the chips individually and consider their cost and efficiency too.

CPU performance

Qualcomm Snapdragon 8cx vs. Intel Core i5

The Snapdragon 8cx sports Qualcomm’s latest generation Kryo 495 octa-core CPU. That means it has eight cores to work with, four of which will be lower-power and operate when efficiency is more important than performance. In comparison, Intel’s mobile Core i5 CPUs tend to offer two or four cores, sometimes with support for double the number of threads using its hyperthreading technology.

Qualcomm’s new chip is based on a 7nm process — a node that has seen AMD make big gains with its desktop chips. Intel is still mostly focused on 14nm, but does have a handful of new, 10nm-equipped laptops using its new Ice Lake generation of CPUs.

While we don’t exactly know how Qualcomm’s 8cx will compare to new Ice Lake CPUs, we do know how well it does against an Intel Core i5-8250U CPU. Teaming up with UL Benchmarks (formerly Futuremark), Qualcomm delivered some performance results for a new version of PCMark at Computex 2019, showing us just how well its new 8cx stacks up against a popular Intel mobile CPU.

In an application benchmark that looks at performance in Microsoft Office applications and its Edge browser, the Snapdragon 8cx pulled ahead of the Intel chip in PowerPoint, Word, and Edge. It fell noticeably behind in Excel by more than 10 percent, but in the other tests it had an impressive lead of between three and 16 percent. That’s doubly impressive, because the ARM CPU was technically emulating Office, rather than running it natively, as Windows Central highlights.

We don’t know what clock speed the new Kryo CPU cores will run at, but typically Intel holds an advantage over Qualcomm’s chips in that department. The high-power CPU cores in the Snapdragon 850 hit a maximum clock speed of 2.96GHz, while the 8250U in the above tests runs at 3.4GHz.

Assuming the Snapdragon 8cx’s new CPU cores are faster and higher-clocked than past iterations, this may result in a similar performance comparison to Intel’s Core i5 against AMD’s Ryzen CPUs. In that race, Intel excels in single-threaded tasks but offers more comparable performance in multi-threaded scenarios. That may have been evidenced during a graphics test at Computex, which saw the Intel 8250U maintain a greater CPU score than the Snapdragon part, despite seemingly weaker performance in more productivity-focused tasks.

Graphics

Qualcomm Snapdragon 8cx vs. Intel Core i5

Intel’s HD graphics aren’t known to be fantastically powerful, nor do they even offer credible competition for what we could consider budget graphics cards like the Nvidia GTX 1050, but they are passable. They allow users to do some gaming and if Qualcomm’s new Adreno 680 core can offer that, it might not matter if it doesn’t do much more.

Unfortunately, we don’t know what the 8cx’s new GPU core is clocked at, but Qualcomm has given us some details to extrapolate some speculative idea of its performance potential. The Adreno 680 GPU core is said to be the fastest GPU Qualcomm has ever produced, with up to twice the performance and 60 percent greater power efficiency than the Snapdragon 850. It also supports the latest DirectX12 API.

In graphics tests performed at Computex 2019 against the Intel 8250U with its onboard Intel UHD 620 graphics core, the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8cx performed favorably. In the PCMark 10 Night Raid benchmark it achieved a graphics score as high as 6,266, while the Intel chip was only able to achieve a score of 5,831. That’s a more than 20 percent uplift in performance for the Snapdragon SoC and equates to an FPS difference of 29 FPS for the Intel chip (at best), versus the Snapdragon’s 37 FPS.

These are impressive results that suggest the Snapdragon 8cx will be a solid gaming chip for entry-level and indie titles. However, it doesn’t factor in the large uplift in graphics performance of Intel’s Iris Plus graphics that are set to be bundled with new Ice Lake CPUs. Whether that will be available in a Core i5 chip, though, is still unknown.

App support

One of the concerns with Microsoft’s “Always Connected” PC style is the lack of native applications for the Qualcomm hardware under the hood.  Although the two companies have made sure there is emulation that allows x86 applications to run on the platforms, that’s not ideal, as it does require some processing power to perform the translation.

That said, the Electron cross-platform app development system is currently integrating Windows on ARM support and is expected to finalize it as soon as June. That brings popular apps like Slack, Discord, Microsoft Teams, and Spotify into the fold of native ARM applications, which could lead to a great increase in performance on Qualcomm chips. Unity is also said to be adding native ARM support, potentially leading to far greater game support on Snapdragon SoCs like the 8cx.

There are still some missing applications, most notably browsers like Google’s Chrome and Mozilla’s Firefox, though Qualcomm promised that such apps will be ported to the platform in the near future. Microsoft and Google had reportedly been working on Chrome for ARM as of late 2018. More recent attempts to compile Chrome in Chromium make an official launch from Google feel imminent. The recent addition of 64-bit app support should help fill any glaring voids in the software lineup too.

Cost and efficiency

The big selling points of the existing Always Connected line of products are efficiency and connectivity. Qualcomm has talked up efficiency gains for the Snapdragon 8cx, suggesting it could even deliver “multi-day” battery life in some products. That would be an improvement even upon the extensive battery life seen in solid entries like the HP Envy x2, and perhaps see 8cx-equipped laptops offering greater battery life than industry leaders like the Surface Book 2.

Battery life comparisons with Intel’s i5-8250U CPU at Computex 2019 saw the Snapdragon beat it handily, lasting nearly 20 hours during a video loop test, while the Intel equipped laptop managed just 12 hours. However, it’s important to note that the Intel laptop was running a screen at 2K, where the Snapdragon-equipped one was limited to 1080p. This isn’t a conclusive test, especially when we consider new Intel Ice Lake chips and their improved efficiency, but it does suggest that a Snapdragon 8cx laptop would be very efficient and offer great battery life.

However, competing on cost, especially since the Snapdragon 8cx will be a premium chip, may be a harder goal to achieve. Existing Always Connected PCs, like the aforementioned HP Envy x2, sell for as much as $1,000 with the Snapdragon 835, 4GB of RAM and a 12.3-inch display. Prices have come down as of late, though, making it much more competitive with the likes of the standard Envy in sales.

If the 8cx ends up demanding a premium higher than that of the 835, it may be a hard sell compared to some of the more cost effective competition, especially considering laptops with Core i5 CPUs may still outstrip Qualcomm’s best effort in raw performance. The inclusion of 5G connectivity, of course, could ultimately be Qualcomm’s stand-out feature, even at a higher price.

Qualcomm is a serious competitor, but Ice Lake looms

Qualcomm’s 8cx is shaping up to be an impressive SoC with strong performance in general computing and graphics, as well as decent battery life. It may well compete favorably with Intel’s older CPUs and may even face off well with AMD’s latest Ryzen APUs. But we don’t yet know what it can do when compared to the latest and greatest, like Intel’s new Ice Lake processors.

We’ll want to see more benchmarks and third-party testing before we can say for sure how strong the 8cx will perform in the wild, but we’re not far away from its release and products sporting it from doing the same. They were slated for a Q3 reveal, but we may now have to wait until early 2020 for Snapdragon 8cx laptops, which gives Intel plenty of time to counter with more Ice Lake options.

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