Qualcomm said that is partnering with Lenovo to create what it’s calling the first 5G PC, code-named “Project Limitless,” based on the Snapdragon 8cx processor it announced last December. It also used a pair of unreleased PCMark benchmarks to prove that the Snapdragon 8cx can outperform a “Kaby Lake-R” Intel Core i5.
Though the “Project Limitless” name implies it’s nothing more than a research effort, it’s expected that the Qualcomm partnership with Lenovo will yield a consumer product, which Lenovo will likely ship in early 2020. Both Qualcomm and Lenovo are here at the Computex show in Taiwan, where Qualcomm is seeking partners for what it calls its Always Connected PCs.
As we learned in December, the Snapdragon 8cx was designed as a ground-up, optimized design specifically for laptops. Qualcomm’s goal is to achieve performance comparable to that of an Intel U-series Core i5 chip. At the time, Qualcomm hadn’t set the final clock speeds, though the reference laptop the company showed was running at 2.75GHz. Executives said today that the 8cx will run at 2.84GHz.
First 8cx performance numbers released
As for the Snapdragon 8cx itself, the knock on Qualcomm’s chips inside of a PC is that they haven’t been able to supply the horsepower of Intel’s rival Core processors. (On balance, the Snapdragon 850 inside the Lenovo Yoga C630 is perfectly fast enough to run Netflix and most office tasks just fine, based on my experience with it, using a Qualcomm-supplied machine.)
Qualcomm executives previously told PCWorld that the Kryo 495 CPU inside the Snapdragon 8cx was “at least” 2.5 times as powerful as the version of the Kryo in the Snapdragon 850. On paper, that would put it on roughly on a par with an Intel Core i7-8550U, based on PCWorld’s scores for the Snapdragon 850 used in the Galaxy Book 2. As for the Adreno 680 GPU, at the time executives described it as twice as fast as the Snapdragon 850, and three times as fast as the Snapdragon 835.
Qualcomm also erased part of the mystery surrounding the performance of the 8cx itself. On May 27, PCMark developer UL will debut a pair of new benchmarks: an application benchmark that measures processor performance on Office, and a new battery life benchmark that runs down the battery in three different ways.
Qualcomm tested the Snapdragon 8cx against a Core i5-8250U, a member of the 2017 Kaby Lake-R generation. The tests were performed by Qualcomm, though reporters were also offered the opportunity to launch the tests themselves and confirm them. (Qualcomm’s numbers were based on tests running on battery, however, while the demonstration models were plugged in.)
The PCMark application benchmark tested the performance of the laptop across Excel, PowerPoint, Word, and the EdgeHTML version of Microsoft Edge. (According to Jani Joki, the director of engineering at UL, Microsoft’s upcoming switch to the Chromium version of Edge won’t meaningfully affect results, in much the same way driver updates don’t change the fundamental nature of its 3DMark benchmark.)
In every test except Excel, Qualcomm said that the Snapdragon 8cx met or exceeded the Core i5-8250U’s performance. The final score range for the 8cx was 4,039 to 4,139, while the i5-8250U came in at between 3,894 to 3,970. (A live demo run on the 8cx test system yielded a number of 4,356.)
Qualcomm also tested the two platforms using the 3DMark Night Raid bechmark that debuted last fall. UL specifically designed the benchmark to compare ARM and X86-based PCs. Here, too, the 8cx performed very well: the 8cx yielded a a range of between 5,710 and 5,815, while the Core i5-8250U produced scores of between 5,047 and 5,055.
Battery life has traditionally been the strongest point of the Snapdragon architecture, and Miguel Nunes, the director of product management at Qualcomm, said that battery life has only improved as Qualcomm has migrated from one Snapdragon to the next. The results were impressive: between 10 to 12 hours for the Intel Core i5-8250U, and a whopping 17 to almost 20 hours for the Snapdragon 8cx.
Remember, though, that there are two major components to the 8cx platform: the processor itself, as well as the connectivity features that Qualcomm has built into them. Though 5G capabilities haven’t been deployed on much more than on a trial basis, Qualcomm has built in both its X55 5G-capable modem as well as its existing X24 LTE modem, to ease the transition from one connectivity standard to the other. In a private booth, Qualcomm showed the X55 running over sub-6GHz spectrum.
Qualcomm hasn’t announced more than a single partner for the Snapdragon 8cx platform, and Lenovo hasn’t announced a price or availability for Project Endless. Still, Qualcomm continues to raise the bar for the Snapdragon PC platform. We’ll be eager to get our hands on it when Lenovo ships “Project Endless” next year.