In early 2018, the first Windows 10 laptops sporting Qualcomm CPUs hit the market, and with it, Qualcomm brought a more smartphone-like experience to the PC world. That was thanks to superior battery life and always-on LTE connectivity. Unfortunately, because these Windows on Snapdragon devices were stuck using the Snapdragon 835, an outdated processor from mid-2017, their performance was often mediocre at best.
At Computex 2018, Qualcomm is trying to fix it with Snapdragon 850, the company’s first chip built specifically for use in laptops instead of phones or tablets. Though when you look at the Kryo 385 CPU, Adreno 630 GPU, and X20 LTE modem that the Snapdragon 850 shares with the Snapdragon 845, it’s clear the 850 is based heavily off of the phone-first chip found in many of 2018's flagship phones.
Still a claimed performance bump in the neighbourhood of 30-percent is a pretty significant gain, and where Qualcomm says the 850 differs the most from the 845 (and the 835 before it) is in its handling of throttling and thermal management. That’s because thanks to the bigger bodies found in laptops, Qualcomm says it can be more aggressive with clock speeds on the SD 850. Also, by upgrading to Qualcomm’s latest silicon, new Windows 10 ACPCs (always connected PCs—the term for ARM-based Windows machines) featuring the Snapdragon 850 will be able to play and capture videos in 4K and UltraHD Premium HDR.
But for me, the most tantalising aspect of the Snapdragon 850 is Qualcomm’s claim of 20-percent better battery life. If we look back to the Asus Nova Go real quick and do the maths, an extra 20 percent on top of the 15 hour and 16 minute battery number I got in March would translate to almost 18 hours and 20 minutes, and that’s without changing the size of the battery of anything else. Not bad.
On the OS side, some of the improvements in the latest Windows update should also help the Snapdragon 850, especially Window 10's new support for 64-bit ARM CPUs in Edge.
Unfortunately, the problem now is that once again, we’re stuck waiting for laptop makers to put Qualcomm’s new chip in an actual system, which judging by the previous generation’s timeline from announcement to release, means we probably won’t see any Snapdragon 850 laptops until the fall at the earliest. But for people who value longevity and connectivity over raw performance, the Snapdragon 850 could go a long way in making ARM-based laptops a viable alternative over x86 devices.
We’ll know how true its claims are when devices with the chip start appearing near the end of the year.