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ARMs Race | Qualcomm Snapdragon developer kit coming this summer

Qualcomm announced via a press release a new Snapdragon Developer Kit scheduled for release this summer. Much like Apple’s Developer Transition Kit, Qualcomm’s Developer Kit is meant to help developers build new apps with ARM support at a lower cost than a device like Surface Pro X. The device is a mini-PC form factor, developer in collaboration with Microsoft.

Qualcomm says “Besides the growing catalog of productivity and IT management titles ported to Snapdragon, Visual C++ compilers and libraries for ARM64 have been available since Visual Studio 15.9. And you’ll find native ARM64 versions of many go-to, open-source development tools for recompiling, optimizing and testing your applications.”

Qualcomm and Microsoft are showing more commitment to the Windows 10 on ARM platform with this new developer kit, perhaps because Apple’s Mac MarketShare is increasing precisely because of new Apple Silicon powered Macs.

According to Miguel Nunes, Senior Director, Product Management, Qualcomm Technologies Inc. continued with:

With the smaller desktop configuration, this kit gives developers more flexibility than notebook options, and at a lower price point. We remain committed to helping developers address requests from customers, while reducing the overall cost of deployment.

Miguel Nunes, Senior Director, Product Management, Qualcomm Technologies Inc.

The Qualcomm Snapdragon Developer Kit

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The device is an Apple TV-like black box with a Qualcomm Snapdragon logo, USB-A port and what looks like a microSD and SD card slot. While other details are scarce, we imagine there is a display port somewhere on the device.

Background

The Windows platform is chip-architecture-agnostic and enables OEMs to deliver PC’s to nearly every corner the PC market. Qualcomm’s work with Microsoft began long before Windows on ARM, it goes way back to Windows Phone devices, the original ARM-powered Surface and the ARM-powered Nokia Lumia 1520.

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In 2017 Qualcomm in partnership with OEM’s like ASUS, HP, Samsung and others launched the first ARM-powered PC’s using the Snapdragon 835.

Over the next few years devices continued to ship with newer chips like the Snapdragon 855 until Qualcomm launched its first dedicated; albeit a modified Snapdragon 855, the Snapdragon 8cx. We saw a number of devices from big name OEM’s launch with the first-gen Snapdragon 8cx and Microsoft’s Surface Pro X powered by the SQ1 which is a more powerful Snapdragon 8cx.

Microsoft originally launched the Windows 10 on ARM platform with 32-bit app emulation and just recently launched a 64-bit app emulation preview enabling 64-bit app emulation of creative professional apps like Affinity Photo and Designer. 64-bit app emulation makes the platform as compatible as Intel/AMD based PCs with the majority of Windows apps which is an enormous accomplishment.

That accomplishment is overshadowed however; by Apple’s macOS on Apple’s own Silicon platform that not only out performs Snapdragon-based PC’s, it also outperforms Windows 10 on ARM for running legacy apps through translation rather than emulation like on Windows 10 on ARM. It would seem that Qualcomm is now reacting to Apple’s M1 supremacy with a new chipset that could finally challenge Apple’s M1 chip in a future Surface Pro X, ARM-powered Surface Laptop 4 and other PCs from OEM’s.

Even though Qualcomm’s efforts are overshadowed by Apple’s M1that doesn’t mean that Qualcomm isn’t making great strides in performance. If we compare the list of Qualcomm-powered devices below, we can see a steady improvement from the 8cx, SQ1, SQ2 and alleged 8cx Gen3. In fact the Snapdragon 8cx Gen3 is a greater leap in performance that the leap from the SQ1 to the SQ2.

Snapdragon 8cx Gen3 vs Apple M1

ModelProcessorSingle-coreMulti-core
Qualcomm QRDSnapdragon 8cx Gen 3 (alleged)9824,918
Qualcomm CLSSnaodragon 8cx Gen27302833
Surface Pro XMicrosoft SQ27943,036
Surface Pro XMicrosoft SQ17662,946
Samsung Galaxy Book SSnapdragon 8cx7262,909
Surface Pro 7+Intel Core i7-1165G71,3585,246
MacBook Pro 13Apple M11,7207,668

If we compare the Snapdragon 8cx Gen2 versus the alleged 8cx Gen 3 the performance jump is quite impressive. It is only when we compare the 8cx Gen3 to Apple’s M1 that we come to terms that Qualcomm still has lots of work to do.

Snapdragon 8280

We recently reported on Qualcomm’s successor for the 8cx platform in the works referred to as Snapdragon 8280 in import-export databases, even though the final name for marketing is likely to be 8cx Gen 3 or something else entirely. According to a report from Winfuture.de, there are two variants being tested internally at Qualcomm. According to the report, Qualcomm is no longer focusing on combining four high-performance cores with four energy-saving cores, but instead combining two clusters of eight high-performance cores clocked at varying speeds.

While not much is currently known about the chipset, the new chipset reportedly supports up to 32GB of LPDDR4X RAM or 8GB of the faster LPDDR5 RAM which would enable OEM’s to added more than the current ceiling of 16GB to next-gen ARM PC’s. Test Systems with the SC8280 show that they have 14-inch displays, which means these are likely laptops. There is also some information on the Neural Processing Unit or NPU which is said to be capable of up to 15 TFLOPS.

Snapdragon 8280Snapdragon 8280XPSQ3
Cores4x Gold cores 4, efficiency cores4x Gold+, 4x cores4x Gold++ cores, 3x Gold cores
Clock Speed4 @ 2.43GHz, 4 efficiency cores4 @ 2.7GHz, 4 @ 2.43GHz4 @ 3.0GHz, 4 @ 2.43GHz
GPUAdreno 690 @ 693 MHzAdreno 690 @ 693 MHzAdreno 690 @ 693 MHz
Neural Processing Unit15 TFLOPS15 TFLOPS15 TFLOPS
RAMUp to 32 GB of LPDDR4X, support for 8GB LPDDR5Up to 32 GB of LPDDR4X, support for 8GB LPDDR5Up to 32 GB of LPDDR4X, support for 8GB LPDDR5
ModemQualcomm X50 5G, X55 5GQualcomm X50 5G, X55 5GQualcomm X50 5G, X55 5G
Die Size20 x 17 mm20 x 17 mm20 x 17 mm
DevicesARM PC’sARM PC’sSurface Pro X (SQ3)

Snapdragon 8280XP

One of the three chip variants being developed has four “Gold+” cores running at 2.7GHz and four “Gold” cores running at 2.43GHz. All of the other specifications are unchanged from the Snapdragon 8280 variant.

Microsoft SQ3

According to the report, there are certain samples being tested that are similar to the Snapdragon 8280XP but with the 4 performance cores cranked up to the maximum 3GHz with the other 4 lower-performance cores presumably at 2.43GHz. So why do we think this is the future SQ3? Because the past informs the future. For both the SQ1 and SQ2, the clock speeds were cranked up compared to what Qualcomm shipped and this higher clock speeds in some samples being tested aligns with Microsoft’s SQ chipsets running at higher clock speeds.

A former industry insider and tech industry enthusiast.

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