UPDATED 17:37 EDT / OCTOBER 24 2023


Qualcomm introduces new AI-optimized handset and laptop chips

Qualcomm Inc. today debuted its new flagship mobile processor, the Snapdragon 8 Gen 3, which is expected to power the next generation of top-end Android smartphones.

The company also introduced a second chip aimed at the laptop market. The Snapdragon X Elite, as it’s called, is based on Arm Holdings plc’s namesake instruction set architecture. It can reportedly provide double the multi-threaded performance of a comparable Intel Corp. processor.

AI-optimized smartphones

The Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 is powered by a central processing unit with three different types of cores. The so-called prime core, the fastest, can reach speeds of up to 3.3GHz. It’s joined by five performance-optimized cores and four efficiency-optimized cores that offer maximum clock frequencies of 3.2GHz and 2.3GHz, respectively.

The CPU is integrated with several processing modules optimized to run artificial intelligence models. The Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 features an NPU, or neural processing unit, that offers up to 98% higher performance than Qualcomm’s previous-generation silicon. There’s also a graphics processing unit that promises a 25% speed increase compared with its predecessor.

For added measure, several of the Snapdragon 8 Gen 3’s auxiliary components also include AI optimizations. The onboard Sensing Hub, a module that helps process input from a handset’s sensors, uses machine learning to speed up some computations. Meanwhile, the Snapdragon 8 Gen 3’s 5G modem relies on a built-in neural network to optimize wireless connections.

The Snapdragon 8 Gen 3’s various AI-optimized components together form a subsystem called the AI Engine. According to Qualcomm, the subsystem will enable flagship smartphones to run neural networks with up to 10 billion parameters. The AI Engine allows large language models to process up to 20 tokens per second, which corresponds to a few words or sentences.

Arm-powered laptops

In 2016, Qualcomm teamed up with Microsoft Corp. to develop Arm-based processors for Windows laptops. The company debuted its latest entry into this product category today alongside its new flagship mobile chip. The Snapdragon X Elite, as the laptop processor is called, is a system-on-chip that combines a CPU, graphics card, NPU and various supporting components in a single package.

The onboard CPU was designed by Qualcomm’s Nuvia unit, which became part of the company through a $1.4 billion acquisition in 2021. Nuvia was founded two years earlier by former senior members of Apple Inc.’s chip design team. The Snapdragon X Elite’s CPU reportedly features 12 cores that can reach speeds of 3.8 GHz when they’re all active.

The CPU is supported by an onboard GPU that offers 4.6 teraflops of performance. One teraflop equals 1 trillion operations per second. Alongside the graphics card, the Snapdragon X Elite features an NPU that allows it to run AI models with up to 13 billion parameters.

Qualcomm positions the processor as a faster alternative to the existing laptop chips on the market. According to the company, the Snapdragon X Elite can provide double the multi-threaded performance of a comparable laptop CPU from Intel. Moreover, Qualcomm claims its chip uses 70% less power in some situations.

The first laptops to include the Snapdragon X Elite are expected to launch in the middle of next year. According to Qualcomm, hardware makers can build the processor into machines with both active and passive cooling subsystems. Laptops with active cooling, that is a built-in fan, tend to be faster.

Image: Qualcomm

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