Targeting Apple, can Microsoft and Qualcomm make Windows thin and light notebooks easy to use?

The Qualcomm Snapdragon Alert, the latter threatened that its next new products will "absolutely beat" Qualcomm.

Finally, nearly a year after its release, new products equipped with this processor have been launched one after another. Judging from various actual testing experiences, the ARM version of Windows may really be successful this time.

There are many manufacturers here, what is their strength?

Unlike Apple, which focuses on systems, chips, and products, Qualcomm is essentially just a chip manufacturer. Although it has Microsoft's full support behind it, if no other OEM manufacturers in the market vote with actual actions, then this chip can only be said to be a thunderous one. It's heavy and the raindrops are light, so it can be expected that it won't cause any waves.

Therefore, whether it is Qualcomm talking about chips or Microsoft talking about Windows on ARM, every keynote speech will definitely "Khan strengthens his troops" to express how many friendly companies are now entering the game. This not only provides consumers with protection, but also gives confidence to the industry. .

At this year's ComputeX in Taipei, Qualcomm officially announced its cooperation with six established PC manufacturers: Microsoft, Samsung, Acer, Asus, HP, and Dell, and brought more than ten models equipped with Snapdragon X Plus and Snapdragon X Elite's new laptop offering.

There are many flagship products of some brands: Microsoft Surface Pro/Laptop, Dell XPS 13, HP EliteBook Ultra, Lenovo ThinkPad T14S, Samsung Galaxy Book4 Edge, as well as many famous notebook product lines: Lenovo Yoga Slim 7x, HP OmniBook X, Dell Inspiration 14 (Plus), Acer Swift 14 AI, Asus Vivobook S15, etc.

The Qualcomm Snapdragon NPU with 45 TOPS.

Although Qualcomm mainly promotes the Snapdragon X Elite chip, and external discussions are also focused on this flagship product, the performance of the Snapdragon X Plus as the "youth version" should not be underestimated. The Verge specially selected the lowest configuration Surface Laptop (Snapdragon X Plus + 16GB + 256GB) for testing. The testers originally had low expectations, but the performance of this "Beggars Edition" exceeded expectations.

▲ Source: The Verge

The first is one of ARM's biggest advantages – battery life. In the review, the Surface Laptop lasted a total of 7 hours under high-intensity use at full brightness, downloading multiple games, making video calls and working with Photoshop, while in daily light use , basically it can last for one and a half to two days. The reviewer said that he gained a comfortable experience that he had never had in a PC notebook before. He did not have to carry a power supply with him at all times and worry about the battery being exhausted after opening the screen.

In terms of performance, the daily experience of this device is basically equivalent to traditional notebook devices from Intel and AMD. Native applications + translators can basically cover 80% to 90% of daily applications. And during use, the fan of this device almost never worked.

This experience is not exclusive to Microsoft Surface. "Wired" magazine tested the Asus Vivobook S15 notebook. This device is equipped with Qualcomm Snapdragon X Elite chip. The battery is larger than that of the Surface Laptop, so it can provide up to 13 hours of battery life. The battery life is excellent, and the daily use experience can be described as "excellent", and the operation is also "cold" and "quiet".

Apple: the strongest rival and the best role model

Now when it comes to ARM chips in the notebook field, Apple's self-developed M series processors may always be unavoidable.

In 2020, the Apple M1 chip was born, popularizing the concept of "ARM computers" to the public. Actual actions have proven that the ARM architecture can fully unleash performance on computers.

Needless to say, the benefits of ARM include a simpler instruction set than x86, higher energy efficiency, and more suitable for mobile products.

In addition to switching to ARM, Apple's M series chips also adopt a "system on chip" solution, which is the "SoC (System on Chip)" often heard in the mobile phone field. The concept of this solution is to combine memory, CPU, GPU, NPU and so on are packaged together to create a very highly integrated chip.

The advantages of SoC are first reflected in unified memory. CPU, GPU, and NPU share a memory pool, which can make the flow and sharing of data more efficient. At the same time, because of short wiring, energy consumption is also lower.

Therefore, not only Apple and Qualcomm, but even Intel are equipped with unified memory on the upcoming Lunar Lake processor. Yes, the Luna Lake that claims to "definitely beat Qualcomm."

Moreover, since the CPU, GPU, memory and other components that used to be spread all over the motherboard are integrated into a small SoC chip, the body has more space, more batteries can be inserted, and the body is thinner and lighter.

Therefore, when the M1 chip was released, it first brought the biggest change to the MacBook Air. This product line, which had long been criticized for its weak performance and strong heat generation, has transformed into a thin and light notebook that combines performance and is loved by everyone.

It was not that Microsoft and Qualcomm did not have ARM products at that time. SoC itself was also Qualcomm's "specialty". However, the Surface Pro It’s almost like we were in another era.

▲ M1 MacBook Air runs Windows on ARM virtual machine, and its running score is higher than Surface Pro X equipped with Snapdragon SQ2… (Source: Linus Tech Tips)

But to be honest, the threat of Apple's M chip to the PC camp is not as big as imagined. The Mac platform is still only for a small group of users. Those who will buy Mac will buy it regardless of whether it is Intel or Apple chips, but not Mac. Yes, it is difficult to switch to Apple because of M chips.

For Qualcomm and Microsoft, the M chip shows more of the potential of the ARM platform. In addition to beating Qualcomm and Microsoft, it also gives them a reference and learning object. It’s both ARM and SoC, so why is there such a big gap?

So a year after the M1 debuted, Qualcomm acquired NUVIA, an ARM chip design company founded by a former Apple A chip engineer, replaced the ARM public version architecture with a self-designed core, and finally came up with the amazing Snapdragon in 2023 X Elite, aimed at Apple's M chip.

Microsoft, which has suffered repeated defeats

I don’t know if you still remember such a product:

Yes, this product is one of the original Surfaces – Surface RT, and it is also perhaps the most "notorious" one among Microsoft's many black histories.

Surface RT is Microsoft's iconic device as it moves into desktop-level ARM products, but it ended very badly. It was cut in half after just two generations.

But this product can be said to have died completely unjustly. Many users bought it and found that the Windows tablet could not open the software installation package used on the old computer. They could only download it from a store with few applications. Although the Office family bucket was preset, it took a long time to open a Word document… …

This just reflects the two core problems of Windows on ARM: the application ecosystem is too poor and the hardware performance is too weak.

The ARM platform and the x86 platform are not interoperable. Devices using ARM processors cannot run x86 applications without resorting to other means. This means that the massive application resources originally on the Windows platform cannot be used. On ARM you have to start from scratch.

The Windows desktop system dominates the crowd with its massive application ecosystem, but on the mobile side, Microsoft has almost always failed. After the death of Windows RT, the mobile phone systems Windows Phone and Windows 10 Mobile continued to thrive for a few years, and in the end they also died of an application ecosystem that was undeveloped and unmaintained.

The Windows 10 on ARM system of Surface Pro X, which was restarted in 2019, can be said to have not improved much. Even many of the programs developed by Microsoft were not able to prepare the ARM version when this device was born.

Apple next door not only has strong appeal and complete migration measures, calling on many developers to develop native ARM applications for it, but also provides a Rosetta 2 translator that allows ARM Macs to run x86 applications.

Microsoft has also learned lessons from Surface RT and equipped Windows 10 on ARM with a solution that can simulate the running of x86 applications. However, another problem has been exposed: the processor performance of ARM PC products cannot bear the translator, resulting in Surface Pro

At that time, in 2019, its flagship products were still running 32-bit applications, which was ridiculous.

All this finally came to a turning point in 2024, 12 years after the birth of Surface RT.

First of all, Qualcomm's Snapdragon X series chips finally stood up. Not only did they surpass their weak self, they also had the confidence to compete with Apple and claim to be ahead of the Apple M3 in multi-core performance.

And more importantly, in terms of ecology, after several years of development, the ecology of Windows on ARM has improved, and applications such as Chrome, Photoshop, Spotify, Davinci Resolve, etc. have native versions. This year, Microsoft also attracted leading developer platforms such as Adobe, calling on more developers to participate in the construction of the Windows on ARM ecosystem.

At the same time, because of the strength of the Snapdragon X series chips, Microsoft launched a stronger Prism translator, claiming that the speed of emulating x86 is twice as fast as before.

In terms of actual experience, The Verge tested non-native small and medium-sized applications such as Notion and iA Writer, and the experience was very smooth, while larger applications such as Discord also ran smoother than before.

@biba Evaluation Room conducted a compatibility test on domestic applications that are commonly used in daily life and work. The results were not bad. Among the 21 applications tested, 2 were unable to run and 2 were relatively laggy. The specific test results are as follows :

On ARM, Microsoft did wake up early and catch up late, but now it seems that Microsoft has caught up.

Qualcomm’s transformation path

If you still think Qualcomm is mainly a manufacturer of processors for mobile phones, then you may need to keep up with Qualcomm. Qualcomm said that it has transformed from a communications company into an "Internet computing company."

If you click on Qualcomm's official website, you will find that they already have ten major platforms. In addition to the well-known platforms such as mobile phones, tablets, and computers, there are also fields such as VR/AR, cars, wearables, audio, and even wireless Internet, industrial Internet of Things, cameras, and smart homes are areas that we may not know Qualcomm will get involved in.

Qualcomm is not only good at everything, it can even be said that its achievements in many fields can be said to be outstanding.

For example, in the automotive field, revenue in the first quarter of 2024 reached US$598 million, a year-on-year increase of more than 31%. Qualcomm also accounts for more than 80% of the global automotive chip market; and in the field of XR mixed reality headsets, Qualcomm’s customers include The three manufacturers Meta, DVPR and Pico have a share of 86% in the XR head display field.

Qualcomm's strategy is very simple, that is, to slightly modify its leading mobile phone chip technology and distribute it to various vertical categories. Therefore, the advantages of mobile phones become the advantages of cars and headsets.

PC chips play exactly this way. For example, the budding Snapdragon 8cx PC chip is a modified + enhanced version of the mobile phone chip Snapdragon 855. The current Snapdragon X series also has a lot of wisdom from mobile phone chips.

In fact, Apple has the same strategy. Apple TV set-top boxes and Studio Display monitors are directly equipped with A chips; M chips are also the master of A chip technology. In addition to Mac, they are now also available on Vision Pro.

Unlike cars, computers, and XR, the PC field is not a new world to be opened up by Qualcomm, but a stage that already has strong defenders. Qualcomm is very smart and has used a piece of limelight to compete, that is – AI.

Although AI will be the foundation of almost all smart devices in 2024, on Qualcomm and Microsoft, AI can be said to be "heavy and colorful", at least in terms of publicity.

Microsoft proposed the Copilot+ PC AI PC device brand this year, and it also debuted on Qualcomm Snapdragon X devices. Although currently, the most AI part of the Copilot+ PC equipment that everyone has in hand is the brand name.

▲ The most critical "Recall" AI function has not been implemented on Copilot+ PC due to controversy.

AI PC, or Copilot+ PC, may be more like a cover for Qualcomm to further penetrate the PC market: these Snapdragon

With its new Copilot+ PC, Microsoft is re-promoting Windows on ARM, which has lost market confidence.

Windows on ARM has a long way to go

Of course, Qualcomm and Microsoft have only achieved very preliminary results. Windows on ARM has a long way to go.

Building an application ecosystem from scratch is not easy, and Microsoft has already suffered a setback with WP Mobile. Although the Prism translator is much more usable and easier to use than before, its performance in running large programs needs to be improved. For example, the performance of Adobe's Premiere Pro in translation makes people eagerly await a native version.

The game ecosystem, once an area where Microsoft was far ahead, must now start from scratch. For masterpieces such as "Cyberpunk 2077" and "Shadow of the Tomb Raider", the translator either runs lag or cannot be opened at all.

▲ Games that use anti-cheating technology cannot run on WoA. Source: The Verge

Therefore, establishing an ARM native application ecosystem is not only a long-term strategy, but also a fundamental problem-solving idea.

As for the Qualcomm Snapdragon X series chips, although they have surpassed their once weak self, there is still a lot of room for improvement.

For example, battery life, many test results show that although the Surface Laptop has performed well, it is still far behind the M3 MacBook Air. However, with the increase in native applications, the battery life of Qualcomm chips is also expected to be further extended.

▲ YouTube anchor Max Tech evaluates Surface Laptop 7 (Elite version) and M3 MacBook Air. After a series of tests, the former has 32% of power left, while the latter has 50% left.

In the benchmark test, Qualcomm Snapdragon X Elite's Surface Laptop surpassed the M3 MacBook Air in multi-core performance, but the MacBook Air still leads in single-core performance. And Qualcomm still has a lot of room for improvement in GPU performance. In the GPU performance test, the frame rate of the Asus Vivobook S15 lags 10% to 20% behind the Intel Core Ultra 7 machine.

What's more, M3 is more like Apple's entry-level chip. Qualcomm X Elite's real rivals should be the more difficult to overcome M3 Pro and M3 Max.

If Qualcomm PC wants to be promoted, there is still a big obstacle, and that is price. With other configurations being the same, the Core Ultra5 version of Asus's Intrepid Pro15 notebook is priced at as low as 5,799 yuan, while the Snapdragon X Elite version is priced at 7,999 yuan.

Back then, when we reviewed Surface Pro

Now, notebooks equipped with Snapdragon With the arrival of professional-level native applications such as Adobe, Qualcomm PCs are increasingly hoping to become "regular".

So, is Windows on ARM done? It's not done yet, but the future is more promising than before, and it has more strength to break the situation.

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