Danish Kapoor
Danish Kapoor

Qualcomm's new move will be to play Windows games with Snapdragon X Elite

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Qualcomm has come a long way since its first attempts 15 years ago, and now the question “Can it replicate the success Apple has had with its ARM-based laptops?” It brings to mind the question. Here's a hopeful sign: Qualcomm is telling game developers that their games should run on upcoming Snapdragon-powered Windows laptops without requiring any ports.

In a session titled “Windows on Snapdragon, a Ready Platform for Your PC Games” at the 2024 Game Developers Conference, Qualcomm engineer Issam Khalil emphasized that these yet-to-be-announced laptops will run x86/64 games with near-full-speed emulation.

These laptops can be released quickly. Qualcomm has confirmed that it plans to release Snapdragon X Elite systems this summer, and the newly announced Surface Pro 10 and Surface Laptop 6 are expected to launch with these chips in May.

We know how Apple turned the concept of laptop performance upside down in 2020. But we haven't yet felt that Qualcomm is this confident in this regard. With Windows on Snapdragon, developers have three options: They can port their games to native ARM64 for the best CPU performance and power usage, create a hybrid “ARM64EC” application, or use x64 emulation for next to nothing.

Developers do not need to make any changes to their code or assets for their games to run at full speed. Qualcomm states that GPU performance is not affected, and only a slight drop in CPU performance is observed when translating or switching between x64 and ARM64. But this happens the first time the code block is translated, and subsequent passes are direct cache access.

Qualcomm says it has Adreno GPU drivers for DX11, DX12, Vulkan, and OpenCL, and will support versions from DX9 through OpenGL 4.6 via mapping layers. However, games that rely on kernel-level anti-cheat drivers and games that use AVX instruction sets will not run under emulation.

Although it is not yet known how the Snapdragon X Elite chip will perform in daily use as well as in games, an exciting period is beginning for Qualcomm and game developers. While Qualcomm emphasizes the importance of being able to deliver existing games, it does not expect developers to port all their applications to ARM. It remains a matter of curiosity what kind of impact Qualcomm will have on the laptop market with this new initiative.

Danish Kapoor