Qualcomm has signed up major PC makers Lenovo, Asus, and HP Inc. (HPQ) to sell Windows laptops running on its newest mobile chips.
Qualcomm had announced in December that it was working with Microsoft to create a version of Windows 10 that could run on the Snapdragon 835 chip that typically is used in cutting-edge smartphones like the Samsung Galaxy S8. Windows PCs usually run on Intel’s x86 line of chips.
The move marks the counter punch, perhaps, to Intel getting into one of Qualcomm’s main lines of mobile chip business. Intel started making its own wireless modem chips to compete with Qualcomm, and last year signed up Apple (AAPL) as a customer. About half of the new models of the iPhone 7 contained Intel modems instead of those made by Qualcomm.
Both Qualcomm and Intel (INTC) face challenges finding growth as their largest markets mature. Intel has been dealing with the declining PC market for years and has since targeted higher growth markets like cloud data centers, wireless modems, and smart devices, or the Internet of things. Qualcomm is seeing mobile device growth slow and also is turning to the Internet of things and data centers for growth, along with the new push into Windows laptops.
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At the Computex trade show in Taiwan on Wednesday, Qualcomm unveiled its three PC partners. Windows laptops running on the Snapdragon chips would gain the benefits of longer battery life and wireless modem capability to get online via mobile networks at up to 1 gigabit-per-second speeds, Qualcomm said.
That’s exactly what many PC users want, according to Jeff Meredith, senior vice president at Lenovo. “Today’s PC users want solutions that provide better battery life and the ability to connect anytime, anywhere, while also being lighter and more portable than any other laptop currently available,” he said in a statement.
The laptops will be able to run any Windows software, including Microsoft (MSFT) Office, Qualcomm (QCOM) said. But none of the laptop models was ready for a public unveiling. That will happen in the second half of this year, Qualcomm executives have said.
Just how well the new Snapdragon-based laptops will run Windows apps is a key question, because poor performance killed earlier efforts to run Windows on chips like Qualcomm’s that use ARM Holdings’ basic designs.
On the new laptops, some programs will run with code that is completely compatible with ARM, but many more will have to use an emulation mode, notes analyst Patrick Moorhead, president of Moor Insights & Strategy. “This emulation results in a performance hit of unknown percent and may be one of the major make or break points for Windows on ARM,” Moorhead wrote in a post on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Intel was showing off connected Windows 10 laptops at Computex running on both its CPU and wireless modem chips. Acer, Dell and many other PC makers are on board with its connected laptop push, Intel said.