Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon X Elite chips could mean better laptop battery life than ever before - but one thing worries me about these new processors

A woman in a high-vis vest and hard hat holding a laptop outside in a solar farm.
(Image credit: Shutterstock / VAKS)

Qualcomm is gunning for Apple and Intel, with its spicy new Snapdragon X Elite chip proving very impressive when I demoed it at an event recently. Performance was excellent across the board, with special attention given to the new chip’s AI capabilities thanks to its best-in-class Hexagon NPU. But there was one thing I didn’t pay enough attention to at first glance: power efficiency.

Now, power consumption is perhaps one of the least sexy elements of microprocessor design. It’s easy to market powerful new GPU cores or hot-topic AI processing power, but that doesn’t mean good power efficiency isn’t important - in fact, in laptops, it translates directly to more battery life, which market research cited by Qualcomm indicates is the number one priority factor for people looking to buy a new device.

Qualcomm made some bold claims about the X Elite’s battery-boosting capabilities at the event I attended, stating that it could match Intel’s new Core Ultra 7 155H laptop processor in performance with just 35% of the power consumption. Sure, I already knew Intel’s chips had a reputation for guzzling battery, but that’s damn impressive - if Qualcomm’s stats prove accurate once the X Elite is actually out in the wild.

The pitfalls of this great new chip

On paper, the Snapdragon X Elite seems poised to take the laptop world by storm. Qualcomm claims that it outperforms the Apple M3 chip by almost 30% in GeekBench 6’s multi-core tests, and that it can run Microsoft’s Edge browser 57% faster than Intel’s competing 155H CPU. Qualcomm’s battery life promises include 40% more power efficiency while using Office 365 apps and less than half the battery drain during Teams video calls against the same Intel chip. If the X Elite lives up to the hype, we could be approaching a golden era of laptop longevity.

There’s one slight wrinkle in the whole affair, however, which has me spooked. No, it’s not my long-running concern about Windows on Arm (although that’s a whole other problem).

A Qualcomm Snapdragon X chip being held carefully in two fingers against a cityscape background.

Even after seven years as a tech journalist, it's still hard for me to believe something so small can be capable of so much. (Image credit: Future)

During a Q&A at the Snapdragon X Elite event, 38 floors up overlooking the London skyline, a fellow journalist asked about the scalability of the new chip. The answer we got was a little surprising: Qualcomm is confident that it can leave power regulation for the X Elite chip in the hands of third-party hardware manufacturers, with no fixed operating voltages or wattages provided by the chipmaker itself. In other words, the power drain of the X Elite could vary significantly from device to device.

This is actually a very good idea on principle, since it effectively allows Qualcomm’s manufacturing partners to tweak the Snapdragon X Elite’s capabilities at will to better suit the power demands of individual systems. A compact Chromebook with only a small battery can draw less power from the chip, while a powerhouse 16-inch ultrabook can max out power use to utilize the X Elite’s full potential.

However, this naturally means that performance could differ greatly between devices, despite them using the same chip - and that creates ripe ground for consumer confusion.

A problem without a simple solution

The key issue here is that consumers might end up misinformed about the Snapdragon X Elite’s actual capabilities. While I appreciate that Qualcomm is working to avoid baffling potential customers with confusing CPU nomenclature in the vein of Intel and AMD, at least it’s easy enough to tell at a glance that a Core Ultra 7 is more powerful than a Core Ultra 5.

With the X Elite, two devices could be running at totally different power packets, and vary significantly in performance as a result - but without any clear indication of that on a brief spec sheet, Qualcomm runs the risk of disappointing consumers. I can understand the desire to mirror Apple’s user-friendly SoC naming conventions, but Apple keeps its M-series silicon inside a tightly controlled hardware and software ecosystem. With dozens of laptop manufacturing partners itching to get their hands on the Snapdragon X Elite, the same rules don’t apply here.

Two Qualcomm Snapdragon X Elite reference laptops running test software.

(Image credit: Future)

However, Qualcomm doesn’t seem overly concerned about this, so perhaps I’m just being a worrywart here. When I posed a question about it, I was informed that while power delivery is left to laptop makers, Qualcomm does provide “minimum expected performance guidelines”, presumably to prevent a third-party manufacturer from bespoiling the Snapdragon name with a hideously undervolted chip.

In any case, we won’t know the real ramifications of the Snapdragon X Elite for the laptop market until it arrives in consumer laptops later this year. Personally, I’m hoping it lives up to the hype - I’d truly love for Qualcomm to dash my fears and deliver an Apple-beating standard for lightweight laptops, so I can finally stop telling people to just buy a MacBook Air.

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Christian Guyton
Editor, Computing

Christian is TechRadar’s UK-based Computing Editor. He came to us from Maximum PC magazine, where he fell in love with computer hardware and building PCs. He was a regular fixture amongst our freelance review team before making the jump to TechRadar, and can usually be found drooling over the latest high-end graphics card or gaming laptop before looking at his bank account balance and crying.

Christian is a keen campaigner for LGBTQ+ rights and the owner of a charming rescue dog named Lucy, having adopted her after he beat cancer in 2021. She keeps him fit and healthy through a combination of face-licking and long walks, and only occasionally barks at him to demand treats when he’s trying to work from home.