Qualcomm’s new, purpose-built Snapdragon 8cx is the company’s chance to finally power a Windows laptop worth buying. Battery life and integrated cellular connectivity (read: your laptop always has an internet connection) have always been the company’s strengths, but its previous Snapdragon 850 didn’t have always have enough raw horsepower to muscle through a web browser full of web apps.
We won’t know if that’ll truly change until we’ve spent some quality time with real Snapdragon 8cx-powered computers — of which none have been announced so far — but I did just get my hands on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8cx reference design laptop, and my first performance impression was promising.
When I fired up a beta of a new Firefox browser that’s been overhauled to natively run on ARM-based computers, I was able to easily open up a dozen browser tabs and scroll through them without any major issues. That’s while a PowerPoint presentation and a Windows Store instance hovered in the background, and while mirroring to an external monitor. It wasn’t a buttery smooth experience, but it wasn’t a laggy one either, and it felt like I had headroom to spare.
And I’m not just talking about a dozen instances of Google. I’m talking about websites with a decent amount of page load and some ongoing demand on a computer’s memory and processor, including The Verge, CNET, a pair of YouTube HD videos, a Google Sheets spreadsheet, and a fully loaded instance of Tweetdeck with all my social media columns. It did take a second for the spreadsheet to load properly, but that could have been connectivity — I was surfing on a fairly limited 20 Mbps Verizon LTE connection at the time.
Here's a little amateur video I shot of the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8cx reference design laptop. I was mildly impressed with the web browsing performance in the Firefox-on-ARM beta: https://t.co/g1jOAmqocw pic.twitter.com/VJZzgV7ZfH— Sean Hollister (@StarFire2258) December 6, 2018
Obviously, this isn’t nearly enough testing. I didn’t run a single quantitative benchmark. Also, the friendly on-site Qualcomm rep wouldn’t let me access the Windows Task Manager to see just how much my browser load was stressing the new chip.
And there’s not a lot to say about the reference design itself. It looks and feels like a pretty generic, mid-range, thin but a little plasticky Windows convertible, with a fairly dim screen and a camera bump around back. None of these things will necessarily be true of final devices from proper PC manufacturers.
We’ll hopefully have the chance to test more in mid-2019, when Qualcomm expects the first 8cx devices will come to market. For now, the early Firefox performance is a good sign.