Qualcomm, Intel or AMD? The battle in the convertibles promises a great impact on consumption and performance

Qualcomm has chosen a most exciting time to land on the PC market with its Snapdragon platform. And it is that when the first convertibles and ultralights equipped with this SoC arrive, they will be forced to face not only the new ones Ryzen Mobile Y Ryzen PRO Mobile that AMD just presented at CES, but also the first Intel Core equipped with an AMD Radeon RX Vega M GPU.

The data we have collected so far allows us to get an idea of ​​what each of these proposals will bring us. Although, of course, we cannot take anything for granted until we have a chance to thoroughly test the first equipment that will have these microprocessors. Of course, we can be sure that this market segment is about to perk up more than we anticipated a very short time ago.

Yes, ARM and Windows 10 get along

And the credit does not belong only to Qualcomm, but also to Microsoft, as we anticipated at the time. Working together they have made certain components of Windows 10 (some of the most important, such as the kernel or device drivers) run natively on the ARM cores of the Snapdragon SoCs, while other parts of the operating system and x86 applications are rendered using the x86 emulation mode implemented by Microsoft in Windows 10.

Something that is worth paying attention to given its relevance is that Snapdragon computers that incorporate the latter operating system can run both applications built on the UWP (Windows Universal Platform) platform, which are those specifically designed to run correctly throughout the Windows 10 ecosystem, as Win32 programs, which are the usual ones, the ones we have traditionally used in Windows.

In this way, the range of applications that can be run on a machine with Snapdragon SoC and Windows 10 is virtually unlimited, which places it in this scenario in equal opportunities compared to computers that incorporate an x86 microprocessor from Intel or AMD.

Qualcomm, RISC and autonomy of up to 25 hours

Unlike the x86 microprocessors from Intel and AMD, which use a CISC (Complex Instruction Set Computer) architecture, Qualcomm’s Snapdragon uses a RISC (Reduced Instruction Set Computer) architecture. The main difference between the two design models is that ARM uses a set of instructions relatively simple, and therefore not very extensive, while CISC follows an opposite design philosophy characterized by having a set of instructions very spacious.

The divergence of these two approaches causes the number of transistors that must be used in the manufacturing process of a RISC microprocessor is clearly inferior that of a CISC chip. Although, logically, the total number of transistors does not depend solely on the architecture used, but also on other characteristics of each microprocessor, such as the complexity of its microarchitecture or the number and size of the cache memories, among other factors.

RISC processors use a reduced instruction set, while CISC use a much more extensive one

The constant improvement of integration technologies, or lithography, introduced by microprocessor manufacturers allows the consumption of these chips is reduced although the same number of transistors is maintained. But if we compare two chips with different architecture, one CISC and the other RISC, manufactured with the same integration technology and designed to be integrated into the same type of device, the natural thing is that the RISC incorporates a much lower number of transistors than the CISC .

Looking for maximum efficiency

The consumption of a microprocessor is largely conditioned by the number of transistors it incorporates, although there are other characteristics that also contribute in an important way to reduce its consumption, regardless of the architecture it uses. A strategy commonly used by microprocessor designers consists of, roughly, deactivating those functional units and elements of the SoC that are not being used at a certain moment, which obviously contributes to saving energy.

In any case, despite the nuances that we have just reviewed and the different strategies addressed by processor manufacturers, the most striking thing in the scenario at hand is that SoCs with ARM architecture they tend to consume significantly less than those who use the CISC architecture. Hence, they have been so successful in the market for mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets.

Qualcomm is fully aware that its Snapdragon chips have this competitive advantage. when compared to Intel and AMD x86 chips, so it is to be expected that its landing in the convertible and ultralight market will give us autonomy much higher than what we are used to. But to what extent will they be superior? According to Qualcomm, the equipment that incorporates its SoC and Windows 10 will offer us an autonomy of up to 25 hours, although this does not mean that all devices reach this figure.

Even so, it is clear that, if the arrival of the first convertibles and ultralights confirms this promise, the improvement compared to what we have today in terms of autonomy it will be very remarkable. It is in this area that Qualcomm has an ace up its sleeve, but we must not overlook that, the fact that its SoCs consume less energy and dissipate less heat, also has other implications.

And it is expected that some of the computers with Windows 10 that will incorporate a Snapdragon SoC are thinner and more stylized than similar models with Intel or AMD chip. Of course, we will have to wait to see if computer manufacturers really take advantage of this feature and take advantage of it in their designs.

As a culmination of everything we have just seen, we can conclude that, on paper, convertibles and ultralights with Snapdragon SoC seem to be very attractive for those users who, above all, need a machine that has autonomy as long as possible. One more note: the Snapdragon 835 SoCs incorporate a x16 4G LTE modem and 802.11ac 2×2 MU-MIMO WiFi, so the devices that will have this chip will be up to date in connectivity.

Intel wants to give the chest do in performance

Yesterday we told you that Intel and AMD have begun to collaborate to develop the new microprocessors Intel Core with Radeon RX Vega M graphics logic. Its objective is very clear: to place on the market a product capable of combining the performance of an Intel Core i5 or i7 processor with TDP of 45 watts and up to 4.2 GHz, and the power of Radeon graphics logic, which will range between 2 , 6 and 3.7 TFLOPS in single precision operations. There is nothing.

Although these chips have been conceived to be integrated in convertibles, conventional notebooks, ultralight and mini-PCs, it seems unlikely that they will be able to compete in terms of autonomy with similar proposals that will opt for a Snapdragon SoC (we will confirm it as soon as we have the opportunity to analyze the first units of this equipment in our laboratory).

Graphics logic of Intel Core processors with Radeon RX Vega VPUs will reach 3.7 TFLOPS in single precision operations

Even so, the new Intel Core with Radeon RX Vega M graphic logic will stand out, of that there is no doubt, for its overall performance, and probably also by a performance / watt ratio very interesting. This means that, on paper, they will establish themselves as a very attractive proposal for those users who want to get a convertible or an ultralight whose power, even without rivaling that of a high-end desktop PC or a computer for gamers, will ensure enormous flexibility when running applications.

And it is in the scenario in which it is necessary to resort to one of these teams to execute graphic design applications, photographic retouching, infographics, or, simply, games, in which computers equipped with one of these microprocessors should shine.

Of course, a factor that we must not lose sight of is its price. We do not know it yet, but it is clear that its acceptance will depend to a large extent on the difference in price between the equipment equipped with one of these new microprocessors and its competitors, especially the chips that we are going to talk about next.

Ryzen Mobile: AMD’s bet

Qualcomm and Intel’s 2018 strategy in the convertible, ultralight and mini-PC market is clearly established, as we have seen. And AMD cannot be left behind, something that obviously benefits us, the users. And, as we told you a few hours ago, the Sunnyvale company has presented new models of APUs belonging to families Ryzen Mobile and Ryzen PRO Mobile, which are their proposals for consumer laptops, the first, and professionals, the second.

The new APUs represent a further step by AMD towards its consolidation in a market where the first Ryzen Mobile microprocessors proved to be a very strong option. And the future for this company looks very good when we consider that AMD plans to introduce 7nm lithography in its next Zen 2 and 3, although in principle we will have to wait until 2020 to be able to get a team equipped with one of these APUs.

AMD expects to take a major step forward when it introduces 7nm lithography in Zen 2 and 3, probably in 2020.

In any case, what interests us now is that the Ryzen Mobile and Ryzen PRO Mobile APUs have Radeon Vega graphics logic similar to those that we will soon be able to find in computers that opt ​​for Intel Core chips with Radeon RX Vega M graphics logic. From here we can conclude that, a priori, will compete directly in the market segment of high-performance convertibles and ultraportables, while devices with Snapdragon SoC should stand out in the segment of devices with very high autonomy.

Everything that we have covered in this post can be deduced from the information we have, and also from our experience with the devices that we have tested from these three manufacturers in recent years. Still, of course, we can’t take anything for granted until the first units of this new generation arrive in our laboratory and we have the opportunity to test them thoroughly.

Almost ready to disembark

The first to arrive will probably be the new convertibles HP Envy x2 and Asus NovaGo, which Qualcomm and Microsoft unveiled a month ago at their event in Hawaii. However, these teams will not incorporate a Snapdragon 845 SoC, which, as you know, will be the next top of the range of this firm, but the Snapdragon 835.

Even so, its arrival will be very interesting because it will allow us to anticipate with great precision what the teams that will have the new Snapdragon 845, which, according to Qualcomm, will land at the beginning of the second semester of this year.

Meanwhile, the first ultralights and convertibles equipped with AMD’s new Ryzen Mobile and Ryzen PRO Mobile are expected to land in the second quarter of 2018, so they will face each other with the first teams with SoC Snapdragon 835, and, shortly after, with the proposals with Snapdragon 845 because it seems that they will reach the market in a relatively short time.

The third in contention in this market segment, Intel, is also preparing the landing of the first proposals equipped with its new Intel Core accompanied by the Radeon RX Vega M GPUs. As we have told you, the Santa Clara company has already presented its new NUCs with Radeon RX Vega, which appear to be available throughout next spring.

This announcement allows us to intuit that the first convertibles, laptops and mini-PCs equipped with the new Intel Core with Radeon RX Vega M will arrive on the market very close to that of their rivals Qualcomm and AMD. It’s time to stay tuned.

In Engadget | It’s official: Microsoft confirms support for Windows 10 and x86 applications over ARM from Qualcomm