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Qualcomm Teases Snapdragon X Chips As AI PC Battle Heats Up With Intel And AMD

Dylan Martin

The upcoming Snapdragon X series is part of a growing wave of chips positioned by vendors to accelerate AI workloads in PCs, which companies like Intel, AMD, HP Inc., and Dell view as a major refresh opportunity. However, Qualcomm’s release plans have been clouded by a lawsuit from Arm, which seeks to destroy the custom Oryon CPU design at the heart of Snapdragon X.

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Qualcomm has vowed to revolutionize the next generation of PCs with its newly branded Snapdragon X system-on-chips, setting the stage for a new level of competition against Intel, AMD and Apple as hype builds around the emerging but loosely defined category of AI PCs.

The San Diego, Calif.-based company disclosed the new Snapdragon X brand on Tuesday and teased a potential 2024 launch window for the upcoming system-on-chips (SoCs), which will use its custom, Arm-compatible Oryon CPU whose development originated from its 2021 acquisition of chip startup Nuvia.

[Related: AMD Hires Intel Exec Who Led Client AI Team For ‘Meteor Lake’ CPUs]

The use of a custom, Arm-compatible CPU mirrors Apple’s move to design custom chips based on Arm’s instruction set architecture for Mac computers, starting with the M1 in 2020. Apple’s decision to develop its own chips instead of relying on Intel processors has been considered a success by the company, and now Qualcomm hopes it can provide further differentiation in the PC market.

The upcoming Snapdragon X series is part of a growing wave of chips positioned by vendors to accelerate AI workloads in PCs, which companies like Intel, AMD, HP Inc., and Dell view as a major refresh opportunity. However, Qualcomm’s release plans have been clouded by a lawsuit from Arm, which alleges that it breached the latter’s licensing terms in using Nuvia’s technology.

Qualcomm Promises Big Leaps For General-Purpose, AI Computing

In a blog post, Qualcomm referred to Snapdragon X as a “premium design” and called it a “monumental leap forward in computing.”

“2024 will be an inflection point for the PC industry, and Snapdragon X compute platforms will deliver next-level performance, AI, connectivity and battery life,” the company said.

Like previous Snapdragon SoCs for PCs, the Snapdragon X chips will consist of a CPU, GPU and neural processing unit (NPU). The chip designer was the first company to introduce an NPU into an SoC for PCs to process AI workloads with previous Snapdragon generations.

By using the custom Oryon CPU, Snapdragon X will provide a “quantum leap forward in performance and power efficiency,” and the chip’s NPU will “deliver accelerated on-device experiences for the new era of generative AI,” according to the company.

Qualcomm said the “X” identifier will help distinguish the upcoming PC SoCs from Snapdragon products it releases for smartphones and other device types.

The company is expected to share more details about the Snapdragon X chips at the Snapdragon Summit in Hawaii in late October.

Competition Heats Up For Enabling AI Experiences In PCs

After starting the trend of enabling on-device AI acceleration in PC chips a few years ago, Qualcomm is facing increasing competition in the category from Apple, Intel and AMD.

Apple’s custom chips for Macs have included an NPU since the M1 debuted in 2020, and this year, AMD released the Ryzen 7040 laptop processors, some of which include an AI engine.

In December, Intel is expected to release its first attempt in the area with the Core Ultra “Meteor Lake” laptop processors, each of which will include an NPU. At last month’s Intel Innovation event, Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger vowed that the new category of chips will bring a sea change to the PC industry.

PC vendors like Dell Technologies and HP have said they are bullish on the AI PC opportunity, with Dell COO Jeff Clarke expecting it to trigger a “substantial” refresh opportunity and HP CEO Enrique Lores saying at the HP Imagine 2023 event that “AI is going to transform the PC category.”

On Monday, IDC Researcher Linn Huang called “generative AI” a potential “watershed moment for the PC industry” and said on-device AI acceleration will likely bring a “significant boost to overall selling prices.”

“While use cases have yet to be fully articulated, interest in the category is already strong,” said Huang, research vice president of devices and displays at IDC, in a statement.

“AI PCs promise organizations the ability to personalize the user experience at a deeper level all while being able to preserve data privacy and sovereignty,” he added.

Arm Seeks To Destroy Qualcomm’s Oryon CPU Designs In Lawsuit

In Arm’s lawsuit against Qualcomm, the British chip designer seeks a U.S. District court in Delaware to compel the destruction of the Oryon CPU design at the heart of Qualcomm’s upcoming Snapdragon X chips.

Arm’s demand is based on its allegations that Qualcomm breached the chip designer’s licensing terms when the Snapdragon developer decided to continue developing custom CPU cores that came from the Nuvia acquisition after both parties failed to reach an agreement on a new license.

Qualcomm, for its part, has said that it believes existing license agreements with Arm cover the custom CPU designs it gained from Nuvia.

Dylan Martin

Dylan Martin is a senior editor at CRN covering the semiconductor, PC, mobile device, and IoT beats. He has distinguished his coverage of the semiconductor industry thanks to insightful interviews with CEOs and top executives; scoops and exclusives about product, strategy and personnel changes; and analyses that dig into the why behind the news.   He can be reached at dmartin@thechannelcompany.com.

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