Can Qualcomm's Snapdragon X Elite Compete with Apple's M3?

Can Qualcomm's Snapdragon X Elite Compete with Apple's M3?
7 min read

Imagine this if you will: a PC that doesn't have an Intel or AMD processor but is actually pretty good. Just imagine it. Although Windows on ARM has been around for a while, the performance just hasn't been good enough for it to be an attractive option. But now we're seeing the Snapdragon X processors from Qualcomm starting to hit the market, going head-to-head with Apple's M series. Qualcomm is even claiming the Snapdragon X Elite soundly beats Apple's M3.

So, can this chip make Windows laptops a compelling buy for folks that might be otherwise considering a Mac? And why do we even need an ARM chip for Windows anyway?

One of the biggest advantages of ARM is that ARM chips tend to be more power-efficient than those using the long-serving x86 architecture, which is a big part of the reason you see it used so often in phones where battery life is a key concern. This isn't universally true, as it's certainly possible to have ARM chips that use lots of power, like in some supercomputers. But keep in mind that x86 was introduced way back in 1978 as a desktop platform where power consumption wasn't nearly as big of an issue.

Using a different architecture that focuses on efficiency means that compatibility and performance can suffer, and those are indeed big reasons why Windows on ARM has struggled to gain popularity in the marketplace. So how is Snapdragon X different?

Well, similar to when Apple first unveiled its M series Apple Silicon to the world, Qualcomm is hammering home the point that testing shows it's faster than Intel's laptop chips, specifically faster than their current Core Ultra 7 offering. Combined with their performance comparisons to the Apple M3, it's a pretty clear signal that Qualcomm and Microsoft aren't content to let Apple run away with the performance crown.

The Snapdragon X lineup is built on a 4 nm process and has between 10 and 12 high-performance cores depending on the model, similar to the Apple M3 Max which is built on a 3 nm process. Despite these similarities, there's one specific area where Microsoft is hoping Snapdragon X will clearly beat Apple, and we'll tell you what that is right after we thank our sponsor.

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AI Capabilities: Qualcomm's Big Bet

It won't come as a surprise to many of you that Microsoft is leaning on Snapdragon X to give it a big advantage in the AI space. Qualcomm already has experience building neural processing units (NPUs) into its previous chips, and the Snapdragon X lineup has NPUs that can deliver 45 trillion operations per second (TOPS).

Microsoft's effort to get AI-enabled Windows features into everyone's hot little hands is currently taking the form of a lineup of PCs the company is calling Co-Pilot Plus, which require NPUs that can deliver at least 40 TOPS. Snapdragon X is technically the first to market with that level of performance, even when you include Apple Silicon.

Of course, this doesn't mean that Intel and AMD aren't trying to play catchup, with both companies looking to release compatible CPUs later this year. And it also doesn't mean that everyone will necessarily embrace AI features. The overall sentiment around AI-driven tech right now is relatively mixed, and there doesn't yet appear to be a killer app that would compel people to run to their local Best Buy in droves for a Snapdragon X laptop to run it.

But even if AI isn't your bag, it does appear that Snapdragon X represents a pretty significant leap forward compared to the underpowered ARM laptop chips of yesteryear. Although emulating native x86 apps still comes with a performance penalty, just as it does on Apple, the more powerful hardware should make emulation less of a pain.

Performance and Compatibility

Although early reviews suggest it still struggles in some applications, the more exciting news on this front is that with this big push for ARM, we're seeing more native ARM versions of software being developed. Notably, Adobe has released popular programs for creatives like Photoshop and Lightroom on ARM, which could end up boosting the appeal of a chip like the Snapdragon X as a true competitor to Apple Silicon. MacBooks have been targeted at creators for quite a long time, and there have even been some impressive gaming results according to some reviewers, even though the Snapdragon X isn't really being marketed as a gaming chip.

For us, the bigger implication here is that emulation performance of non-ARM programs might end up being a pleasant surprise even shortly after launch. However, one very important caveat is that unlike Apple Silicon, there isn't one company controlling the whole hardware and software stack, meaning hiccups may be more likely. So while we're excited about what Snapdragon X can do, I wouldn't necessarily run out to be one of the first people to buy one of these new laptops when they hit store shelves this month. Instead, maybe I'd wait a bit and see what independent reviewers have to say.


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Jacob Enderson 4.2K
I'm a tech enthusiast and writer, passionate about everything from cutting-edge hardware to innovative software and the latest gadgets. Join me as I explore the...
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