MOVING ON TO BIGGER THINGS

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Every smartphone user who bothers to remain even marginally aware of developments in the smartphone industry has inevitably encountered the Snapdragon range of processors, at least by name. Made by Silicon giant Qualcomm and named after the antirrhinum genus of flowers, the Snapdragon CPU has made appearances in countless different models of mobile handsets and tablets running the Android operating system, and their top-of-the-range 800-series CPUs have graced the innards of many a flagship device for years. Qualcomm’s midrange 600-series are considered mainstays for more affordable handsets with certain flagship-grade features, and its and more budget-oriented 400- and 200-series fight for domination over the lower end of the market.

While the higher-end Snapdragon processors are considered excellent by handheld standards, their power naturally pales in comparison to the CPUs used in desktop PCs and laptops, which use larger and more power-hungry processors with considerably higher processing capabilities. Snapdragons utilize a special CPU architecture called ARM, which is especially suitable for smaller devices that spend a great deal of time in some form of sleep mode and is able to switch between awake and asleep states very quickly. On the other hand, conventional desktop CPUs made by Intel or AMD, using x86 architectures, while not as petite or efficient, are built for running beefier operating systems such as Windows and macOS and are typically backed by larger and higher-capacity components.

However, the Snapdragon CPUs hold their advantage in another area – what they lack in terms of packing a wallop in terms of processing power, they compensate for it by being ridiculously power-efficient. Their small size, optimized for being used in mobile devices, allows the use of far simpler ‘passive’ (not requiring fans or other motorized/powered cooling solutions, instead relying on metal heatsinks and heat pipes to draw heat away from the CPU) cooling solutions that require very little space and no additional power.

The worlds of the two classes of processors seemed very much apart until Microsoft announced last year that they were working on a version of Windows that, although being specifically built for ARM processors, would allow Windows programs built for non-ARM systems to be run on it. While this would not be Microsoft’s first attempt to build a version of Windows for ARM systems (ending in the abysmal Windows RT OS), its compatibility with regular Windows apps would make it immensely more practical and useful.

This development would mean that for the first time, the super-efficient and minuscule Snapdragon 835 processors can finally be used to power Windows laptops – laptops with full-sized screens and keyboards and batteries. While they would not be as powerful as their regular x86 counterparts, they would be more than worthwhile for many people who have no need for such volumes of processing power.

THE SNAPDRAGON 835 SYSTEMS ALSO COME WITH BUILT-IN X16 LTE MODEMS, ALLOWING USERS TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF ALWAYS-ON 4G MOBILE DATA NETWORKS TO ALWAYS HAVE STABLE INTERNET CONNECTIVITY, WHICH MEANS YOU WILL NEVER BE TOO FAR FROM CATCHING UP ON YOUR NEXT NETFLIX BINGE PLANS WITHOUT HAVING TO AWKWARDLY ASK ANYONE FOR THE WI-FI PASSWORD.

The small size of the Snapdragon 835 makes it easy for it to be cooled passively, thus allowing the manufacturer to avoid building a complex fan-based cooling solution that would not only consume more power but would also make the device thicker and noisier. Instead, Snapdragon-based laptops can be completely silent, while being extraordinarily thin and light, having vast battery lives and still having enough processing bandwidth for the casual user.

The Snapdragon 835 systems also come with built-in X16 LTE modems, allowing users to take advantage of always-on 4G mobile data networks to always have stable internet connection, which means you will never be too far from catching up on your next Netflix binge plans without having to awkwardly ask anyone for the Wi-Fi password. Snapdragon-based machines can also wake up from sleep in mere seconds, while their Windows counterparts take far more time to do the same.

While the Snapdragon CPUs would prove to be largely unfit for heavy-duty tasks such as intensive photo retouching, video editing or gaming, they are ideal for users who do not require much beyond the basics – browsing the web, spending time on social media and perhaps using some form of office productivity suites such as Microsoft Office or the cloud-based Google Drive apps from time to time to get some work done. This kind of load scenario, compared to their massive battery lives, makes Snapdragon-powered laptops perfect for use by students or corporate professionals.
While still a bit on the pricey side, is priced between $600-800, the first Snapdragon laptops from Asus, Lenovo and HP have finally begun to make landfall. However, the prices seem pretty justified, given that the processing power is being lowered in favor of higher battery life and lighter weight. For the first time, premium-finish svelte-looking laptops with all-day battery lives are no longer objects to be dreamt about but are now a stark reality.

Are Snapdragon laptops slow? Yes, especially when running apps built for conventional versions of Windows, which happens through a process called emulation. Emulation is always a resource-intensive process, and a mobile platform like the Snapdragon 835 can’t go very far with it. But having the option of running conventional Windows apps now and then is definitely a huge plus. It should be noted, though, that the Snapdragon CPUs perform at their best when running native UWP (Universal Windows Platform) apps that either come bundled with Windows or are downloaded from the Microsoft Store. In cases of these programs, the difference in performance between the Snapdragon laptops and conventional ones is considerably minimized, and it is definitely not noticeable enough to be considered a serious demerit of the platform.

It should be noted, though, that these devices, while amazing, are still in their very first iteration, and have their individual shares of shortcomings. Some of the technical specifications are also woefully lacking at present, such as the low RAM and internal storage capacity, both of which can use some serious upgrades to make the system worthier of its price tag. All things said, this is indeed a worthy and powerful beginning of a new era of laptop computing, and we wait to see further developments on this front from Qualcomm and its rivals with great interest. Perhaps a new Atom CPU from Intel can even these new odds? Maybe AMD will bring along something new to the table? Or is Nvidia’s successor to its well-proven Tegra chipset going to outclass them all?
Only time will tell.

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