HP Is Bullish on New Qualcomm PCs But Says Adoption Will Take Time

In an interview with CRN, HP commercial PC leader Guayente Sanmartin and colleague Alex Thatcher explain why Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon X processors for PCs will have ‘much more success’ with business customers than previous efforts but adoption will take ‘a lot of time.’

The head of HP Inc.’s commercial PC business said Qualcomm’s latest effort to compete with Intel and AMD in the PC chip market will have “much more success” with business customers than previous attempts but added that adoption will take time.

Guayente Sanmartin, senior vice president and division head of commercial systems and display solutions at HP, made the comments in an interview with CRN ahead of the company’s June launch of PCs with Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon X processors.

HP launched two Snapdragon X-based PCs on June 18: the business-focused EliteBook Ultra AI PC starting at $1,699.99 and the consumer-focused OmniBook X AI PC starting at $1,199.99. These are among more than 20 PCs that come with advanced AI capabilities as part of Microsoft’s new Copilot+ PC initiative.

While Qualcomm has been releasing Arm-based processors for PCs since 2018, HP had only found “limited success” with the company’s older chips, said Sanmartin.

But with Snapdragon X, which represents Qualcomm’s first custom Arm chip design for the PC market, the HP executive said she expects the semiconductor company to have “much more success than in the past because of many reasons.”

One of the reasons why HP is so bullish on Snapdragon X is the improved software compatibility over previous Qualcomm processors, according to Sanmartin.

“The application compatibility we are getting now is much higher than in the past,” she said.

This is made possible in part by the big investments Qualcomm has made alongside Microsoft to enable native Arm support for many popular applications on Windows such as Microsoft Office, Zoom, Google Chrome and McAfee, the chip designer’s global channel chief, Kyle Houser, told CRN in a recent interview. For apps that aren’t natively supported by Arm, Qualcomm and Microsoft have developed an x86 emulation layer.

Alex Thatcher, senior director of AI experiences and cloud clients at HP, told CRN that the company has set up staff with more than 100 Snapdragon X-powered HP computers running on its full IT stack, which includes software from vendors like CrowdStrike.

Despite running into a few issues, the company has largely been satisfied with the results.

“We found a few corner cases of things that got broken, that didn't work flawlessly. We’re working on that, making it patched, but what we've seen is, by and large, everything in our stack is working, and it's working natively,” he said. “The most important thing is, is the product truth there? And we think it’s there with this generation.”

But that level of software support ultimately exists so that customers can experience the benefits of the Snapdragon X architecture, which Hatcher called “really remarkable” due to it delivering a “step function in graphics and processing and battery life.”

As an example, Hatcher pointed to the neural processing unit (NPU) within Snapdragon X chips. Whereas the power consumption of the chip’s CPU and GPU are measured in watts, the NPU is measured in milliwatts. This means there are major power efficiency benefits for any applications that can be offloaded from the CPU or GPU to the NPU, he said.

“Any process that you can move from a [CPU] or a GPU to that is instant power savings. It's instant sustainability. If you can move it from the cloud, so much more. So that's one of the reasons that you're able to get like 12 hours of [web browsing] and 26 hours of video playback” when it comes to battery life, Thatcher said.

He added that Qualcomm’s Snapdragon X processors give businesses the opportunity to experience the benefits of the Arm architecture without having to use Mac computers, which have been using Apple’s custom, Arm-based M-series chips since 2020.

“The Arm growth on Apple certainly opens the door. A lot of organizations [have] Apples in their IT infrastructure, and they really don't want them. This gives them an opportunity to get back to Windows and deliver some of those benefits,” he said.

Based on general sentiment HP is hearing around Snapdragon X-based PCs, Thatcher said the company expects those kinds of benefits will draw in customers first and then serve as a stepping stone for uncovering the advantages of AI PCs.

“That's why they'll stay in the AI PC category,” he said.

Despite the benefits of HP’s new Snapdragon X-based PCs, Sanmartin said she expects adoption by businesses will be slow at first.

“In order to climb the commercial mountain and [get] the confidence from the IT management point of view, it takes a lot of time. It takes benchmarking. It takes events. It takes trials. It takes a lot of things,” she said.

As such, Sanmartin expects the first wave of Snapdragon X devices to only appeal to “certain users” such as multitaskers and those who want to test out a new chip architecture.

“I think it's very similar to what we're seeing on the overall next-gen AI PC,” she said.

This falls in line with comments by HP CEO Enrique Lores, who recently said that AI PCs will account for 10 percent of client computers the company ships from May to November, which represents the second half of its 2024 fiscal year.

While adoption of Snapdragon X-based PCs may be slow at first, Sanmartin said Qualcomm will bring about a “higher rate of innovation” in the PC market by introducing processors that are more competitive against Intel and AMD.

Thatcher said with Qualcomm’s new chips performing well for the growing number of applications that are moving to the web, it provides a “nudge to the other players in the market to bring their smaller cores and accelerate that.”

The leader of a large Canadian solution provider told CRN that Qualcomm faces an uphill battle in commercial adoption because IT departments within businesses are already stretched thin trying to figure out big issues like AI strategy and security.

“Unfortunately, there’s just tremendous inertia. Customers have a lot on their plate. What is the risk-benefit at this point in time? They’ve got security issues. They are trying to figure out AI. They're still moving to the cloud. They've got data challenges,” said Harry Zarek, president of Ontario-based Compugen, which is an HP partner.

Zarek said his own sales force also doesn’t have the resources to consider new chips.

“All of the things they've got to do, that we ask them to do in terms of business value, asking them to even have a conversation about a processor chip, it's not even on the agenda,” said Zarek, whose company is No. 60 on CRN’s 2024 Solution Provider 500 list.

However, the solution provider executive said Qualcomm could break through to businesses by playing the long game in a manner similar to AMD, which has taken x86 CPU market share away from Intel over the past several years.

“That took a lot of work over a long period of time. AMD was persistent. They demonstrated ongoing leadership. AMD was also really smart. Intel had gaps in both availability and performance that AMD figured out,” Zarek said.