Photo: iStock
Photo: iStock

A PC that’s never offline? Consider one with a smartphone chipset

Notebooks running on mobile chipsets are always connected but still lack desktop-grade computing power

New Delhi: Portable PCs, be they notebooks, ultrabooks or 2-in-1s, are typically designed for higher performance, but not for full-time connectivity and long-lasting battery life. Hence, manufacturers have started using the chipsets in high-end smartphones to provide these additional features in PCs, too.

Qualcomm’s flagship chipset from 2017, Snapdragon 835, is a case in point. Used in several high-end smartphones, the chipset already powers two Windows-based 2-in-1s—the NovaGo by Asus and Envy x2 by HP. Its X16 LTE modem offers internet speeds of up to 1Gbps on a PC, even when users have no access to wired or wireless internet. Its other advantage is improved battery performance—the NovaGo claims a backup of up to 22 hours on video playback and 30 days in standby, or sleep mode, which is quite rare in existing PCs.

Similarly, Lenovo’s new 300e 2-in-1 Chromebook runs on MediaTek’s inexpensive MTK 8173C chipset, originally designed for smartphones and tablets.

“As we move towards an ecosystem of connected devices, the need for a connected PC running on these mobile chipsets that offers LTE (long-term evolution or 4G) and superior battery life, along with steady performance for daily computing requirements looks to be a promising offering," says Nishant Bansal, research manager for PC and IPDS (imaging, printing and document solutions) at IDC India.

But can mobile chipsets match desktop-grade ones? Mobile chipsets are typically designed for smartphones, which is why efficiency and connectivity take precedence over computing power. They also use less power to avoid heating issues. On the other hand, desktop chipsets are meant for full-fledged computing and offer much higher clock speeds and system cache to store programme instructions and data that may be repeatedly required by the chipset.

Hence, to improve the user experience, Qualcomm is upping the ante with the Snapdragon 8cx chipset designed for PCs. It is the first 7nm chipset paired with faster Adreno 680 graphics, larger system cache and supports 4K (3,840x2,160p) HDR (high dynamic range) displays. It also includes the Snapdragon X24 LTE modem, which promises speeds of up to 2 Gbps.

But herein lay a big challenge, too. Windows was designed to run on a PC platform, so porting it to a mobile platform that runs a mobile chipset required Microsoft to create a new version called the Windows 10S, which is fully compatible with apps from the Microsoft App Store, explains Andrew Chan, senior manager (systems marketing) at Asus. “Although users can switch to Windows 10 Pro, programmes written for Windows 10 Pro have yet to be fully tested. As testing and verification continues, we expect greater adoption."

When it comes to rewriting code for Intel and ARM chipsets, there are ways to cross-compile programmes from ARM to Intel. Writing and compiling code will always be an experimental and, occasionally, challenging endeavour that takes patience and skill, says Sachin Dev Duggal, founder and chief wizard at Engineer.ai, a tech start-up which is working on making software development simple.

However, mobile chipsets in PCs will not necessarily make them cheaper as many of them offer features that are available in premium smartphones, which can be quite expensive.

A case in point is the Asus Nova Go, which starts at $599 (around 42,8735). Jeffrey Mathews, analyst (PC) at IDC India, believes that if PCs with mobile chipsets are launched at the right price point, it could see large-scale adoption by vendors and also drive consumer traction towards these devices.

Mobile chipsets will likely make portable ultrabooks or 2-in-1s smarter, and more relevant, for professionals on the move, who need to be connected and require devices that last longer for work.

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