At Qualcomm’s recent earnings call, it was revealed that its powerful Nuvia chips are finally coming, but not until late 2023.
While this still feels like a long wait, it could be well worth it, as we may finally see Windows 11 laptops powered by ARM chips that can seriously rival Apple’s latest batch of Macs and MacBooks, which run on the company’s ARM-based M1 chips.
Unlike the processors from Intel and AMD that are often found in laptops and PCs, ARM chips were more commonly found in mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets, but are increasingly found in laptops as well, bringing benefits such as long battery lives and almost instant wake-up times that you’d usually find in a smartphone.
However, while Apple’s M1-powered MacBooks have really impressed us, ARM-based Windows laptops have been less impressive, mainly due to how expensive and underpowered they are.
Qualcomm’s Nuvia chips could change that, however, with the company’s President and CEO, Christian Amon, stating that this new chip will be “going after the performance tier,” which makes us think that it’ll specifically aim to take on Apple’s M1 chip, as well as the more powerful M1 Pro and M1 Max versions.
Analysis: Patience is a virtue
The idea that we could see ARM-based Windows 11 laptops finally able to take on the likes of the MacBook Air (M1, 2020) and the MacBook Pro 14-inch (2021) is certainly exciting (and could give Apple cause for concern), but there will be a wait, with Amon saying that while Nuvia’s “development is on track,” we’re unlike to see the chips in laptops until “late 2023.”
That’s still some time off, then, and gives Apple an even greater head start. Rumors are also swirling that we could see Apple reveal the M2 chip this year (possibly at WWDC 2022 in June), alongside refreshed MacBooks and Macs. So the question is whether Nuvia be as good as Apple's next-gen chips, or will MacBooks stay a step ahead if Qualcomm can only match what the current M1 chips can do?
Waiting until the end of 2023 for Nuvia could at least give time for Microsoft to make the Windows experience on ARM much better, as another complaint about Windows on ARM devices was the limited amount of apps that could be run on the hardware.
Most Windows 11 apps have been made for Intel and AMD architecture, and Microsoft did a poor job of convincing app makers to port their apps to ARM. This meant purchasers of Windows on ARM devices not only had expensive, under-powered laptops, but they also found many of their favorite apps couldn’t run.
Meanwhile, Apple has done a great job of encouraging developers of Mac apps to create versions that can run on the M1 architecture, while also providing the excellent Rosetta 2 compatibility layer that allowed older apps to run on M1 hardware with minimal impact to performance. For Windows on ARM to be able to challenge to Apple, we’ll need to see a similar push from Microsoft and Windows app makers.
In the meantime, Qualcomm is also working on Snapdragon 8CX Generation 3 chips for Windows 11 devices, and while these will offer better performance than previous generations, it looks like we’ll have to wait for Nuvia to really offer an alternative to Apple’s M1 chips. Let’s just hope it doesn’t prove to be too late.
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Matt is TechRadar's Managing Editor for Core Tech, looking after computing and mobile technology. Having written for a number of publications such as PC Plus, PC Format, T3 and Linux Format, there's no aspect of technology that Matt isn't passionate about, especially computing and PC gaming. Ever since he got an Amiga A500+ for Christmas in 1991, he's loved using (and playing on) computers, and will talk endlessly about how The Secret of Monkey Island is the best game ever made.