Qualcomm's new Snapdragon 850 platform was announced at Computex 2018, along with the news that Samsung is the latest partner to plan a device around it. Devices based on the 850 should ship in time for your holiday purchasing pleasure, according to Qualcomm.
Whether you call them by their marketing moniker, "always-connected computers," or their more technical description of "Windows on Arm," Qualcomm wants its processor to beat as its heart. The first generation of laptops built on its Snapdragon 835 -- the Asus NovaGo and the Lenovo Miix 630, for example -- had a pretty faint pulse, despite showing some early promise. Now the company is hoping to change that image with the Snapdragon 850, essentially the same processor as the 845 that's in flagship phones like the Samsung Galaxy S9 series, OnePlus 6 and LG G7 ThinQ, but with a slightly faster clock speed.
The Snapdragon 850 is really a system-on-chip, integrating a graphics processor, LTE modem, audio processor, memory controller, and more around a Kryo Arm-architecture CPU. So it's no surprise that its vision looks very much like Arm's.
In the context of these systems, "always-connected" refers to both the longer-than-traditional battery life (Qualcomm claims up to 25 hours, or multiple days of standard PC use) as well as always online, in this case via LTE as well as Wi-Fi. And it's betting that people care more about those two aspects more than others, especially performance. Because the 850 may be faster than the 835, and even a little faster than the 845, but it's still a phone processor. Running a full version of Windows.
Qualcomm was able to increase the CPU clock speed from the 845 because even small tablets and laptops have a lot more space for airflow and cooling than a phone. But it's not a lot faster: 2.95GHz vs. 2.8GHz.
The 850 will bring to these systems the same thing the 845 brought to phones including 4K capture and playback, HDR display support, a faster and more stable LTE connection. Qualcomm has created a reference design for manufacturers who are inexperienced with LTE antenna placement. The Hexagon 685 Vector processor in the 850 package can take advantage of Microsoft's AI and machine learning APIs announced at Build 2018 in May, and the recent 64-bit SDK in theory should let developers recompile their 32-bit apps to 64 bits for better performance.
But it remains to be seen whether issues of the first generation, such as application incompatibilities, follow it to the second.
Editors' note: Originally published June 4; updated June 5 with information about Samsung partnership.
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