Qualcomm’s Awkward Boasting Regarding Its Forthcoming X Elite Platform

Monica Chin, reporting for The Verge last month, “Qualcomm Claims Its Snapdragon X Elite Processor Will Beat Apple, Intel, and AMD”:

Qualcomm has announced its new Snapdragon X Elite platform, which looks to be its most powerful computing processor to date. The chips (including the new Qualcomm Oryon, announced today) are built on a 4nm process and include 136GB/s of memory bandwidth. PCs are expected to ship in mid-2024. [...]

Oh, Qualcomm also claims that its chip will deliver “50% faster peak multi-thread performance” than Apple’s M2 chip. This is just a funny claim; the X Elite has 50 percent more cores than the M2 and sucks down much more power, so of course it is going to do better on Geekbench at “peak multi-thread performance.” That’s like a professional sprinter bragging about winning the 100-meter dash against a bunch of marathon champions.

This news is so old that Chin is no longer on the staff at The Verge (which I think explains why she didn’t write either of their reviews for the new M3 MacBook Pros), but I’m cleaning up old tabs and wanted to comment on this.

It’s nonsense. Chips that aren’t slated to appear in any actual laptops until “mid-2024” are being compared to the M2, which Apple debuted with the MacBook Air in June 2022. So even if Qualcomm’s performance claims are true and PCs based on their chips ship on schedule, they’re comparing against a chip that Apple debuted two entire years earlier.

Plus they’re only comparing multi-core performance against the base M2. And they’re not really comparing multi-core performance overall but “peak” performance, however it is they define that. And the fact that they only mention multi-core performance strongly suggests that they’re slower than the M2 at single-core performance, which for most consumer/prosumer use cases is more important.

And: No one in the PC world seems to care about ARM chips, at least for laptops. Microsoft made a go of it with their Surface line and largely gave up. My understanding is that fewer than 1 percent of PC sales today are ARM-based machines. If Microsoft wasn’t willing to optimize Windows to make it ARM-first, or even treat ARM as an equal to x86, when they themselves were trying to make ARM-based Windows laptops a thing, why would they do it now?

If Mac hardware and MacOS were made by separate companies, and the MacOS software company licensed their OS to other OEMs, I really don’t think Apple silicon hardware would have happened. The seemingly too-good-to-be-true performance of Apple silicon Macs is the result of the silicon being designed for the software and the software being optimized and at very low levels designed for the silicon. Qualcomm isn’t going to get that from Microsoft with Windows.

Qualcomm’s X Elite platform may well beat Intel and AMD, but I’m not sure that will matter in the PC world unless Microsoft truly goes all-in on ARM with Windows. Which I don’t see happening. But the idea that they’re even vaguely catching up to Apple silicon is laughable, and it’s frustrating that so much of the tech press took anything Qualcomm claimed about relative performance against Apple silicon seriously.

We know for a fact that their Snapdragon chips for phones have always lagged years behind Apple’s A-series chips in both sheer performance and performance-per-watt, with no sign that they’re catching up. So how in the world would their ARM chips for PCs beat Apple’s M-series chips?

And, yes, I predicted this back in November 2021, when Qualcomm claimed they’d be shipping “M-series competitive” chips for PCs by 2023. Qualcomm claimed to still be on track to ship in 2023 just one year ago, so I wouldn’t hold my breath for “mid-2024” either.