WAILEA, Hawaii—How powerful is the new Qualcomm Snapdragon 8cx? About 13 to 18 tabs powerful. Here at Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Technology Summit, I noodled around with the new ARM-native version of Firefox on Qualcomm’s 8cx reference laptop and tried to fry it with tabs.
The 8cx reference laptop isn’t a consumer product; it’s for demos. Nobody has announced any actual 8cx-based laptops yet, although Lenovo all but said on stage today that it will announce one at CES next month.
The reference laptop has a 1080p screen, 8GB of RAM, and two USB-C ports that can output to two separate 4K displays. OEMs could choose to implement 16GB of RAM and add or delete USB ports, so this doesn’t say much about the actual laptops you’d actually buy.
But I’ve been using a Samsung Galaxy Book2 laptop with a Snapdragon 850 and 4GB of RAM here at the show, and while it’s pretty and has great battery life, man, is it a dog performance-wise. Its worst problems are in Chrome, my browser of choice, which isn’t yet optimized for Qualcomm’s processors.
In Qualcomm’s demo room, the laptops were running the new, unreleased version of Firefox that’s optimized for Snapdragon, and I saw a lot better performance on those devices than I have on my laptop with half the RAM and non-optimized software. Shocker, right? So I loaded tabs. I loaded every J2 Global brand I could think of. They’re our parent company, and have more than 20 different websites, which are full of big images, animations, autoplaying video, programmatic advertising—the works. They’re tough on browsers.
At 18 tabs, Firefox stalled out and was only intermittently responsive. Qualcomm’s Miguel Nunes, senior director of product management, watching nervously, reminded me that this was an unreleased nightly build of Firefox with bugs that still needed to be worked out. Performance stabilized with 13 tabs, and most notably, the tabs did not have to reload when I cycled through them, and they each scrolled smoothly as I flipped between them. That’s much better than Chrome on my Galaxy Book2.
Other demo stations showed several Microsoft Office applications and VMWare running together on two external 4K displays, and someone doing photo editing, all of which were running just fine.
The 8cx’s performance is extremely dependent not just on the hardware OEMs choose to implement, but on software. If apps aren’t optimized for Qualcomm’s processors—as Adobe apps and Chrome, so far, aren’t—they’ll run with much poorer performance than apps that are optimized. Fortunately, Microsoft is working on porting Chromium, which will enable not only Chrome, but many other popular apps such as Slack and Spotify.
At first glance, there’s nothing wrong with the 8cx—and that multi-monitor demo was impressive. The sample laptops performed better than low-end Windows laptops I’ve used, although I’m no Windows laptop expert. (That’s Tom Brant, who did our full writeup of the 8cx.)
But this initial hands on is at least encouraging. We’ll see what sort of features get put into the actual laptops when they’re announced starting next month.