Certain Snapdragon X Elite Laptops to Feature 5G Modems

One of Qualcomm’s indisputable strengths is its 5G modems – something which even Apple has yet to successfully wean itself off of. And while Qualcomm is not integrating a modem into its first-generation Oryon-based Snapdragon X chips, the company is still looking to leverage that technology advantage via discrete modems that can be installed in Snapdragon X laptops.

To date, Qualcomm has won 23 laptop designs with its Snapdragon X Elite SoCs, and all of the leading PC vendors have introduced systems based on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon X Elite processors. However, only some of them will be equipped with modems, the company detailed at Computex 2024.

While the technical rationale for this is very straightforward (not every vendor wants to buy and dedicate the space to modems), it’s still a bit of a surprise as Qualcomm has traditionally heavily pushed laptop vendors to include their modems. But as the Snapdragon X has entered the picture, the joint Qualcomm/Microsoft always connected PC (ACPC) initiative is taking a back seat – meaning modems are no longer being pushed nearly as hard. In its place, the two companies have pivoted hard to equipping mainstream systems with the hardware needed for local AI processing (i.e. NPUs), and with it, Microsoft’s Copilot+ PC branding.

Laptop manufacturers, in the meantime, are breathing a sigh of relief, as this switch to emphasizing AI comes at a much lower hardware cost since vendors don’t need to buy additional discrete hardware. Qualcomm, for its part, has never fully disclosed the full cost of including a Snapdragon modem with a laptop, but the total cost adds up quickly. Besides buying a discrete modem, device manufacturers also need to buy and integrate a 5G-capable radio frequency front end module (RF FEM), as well as the all-important antenna. And mmWave support of any kind can add another wrinkle, as multiple antennas at different orientations are needed to get the best results.

And while not said out loud, Qualcomm’s premium positioning strategy for 8cx-based laptops has not paid significant dividends. Snapdragon X laptops are being priced much more competitively, as Qualcomm is aiming to capture a meaningful share of the PC market – and high-cost features like modems would drive up the final price tag.

Still, virtually all Qualcomm representatives I talked to at Computex were happy to argue that an integrated modem is a huge benefit for their PCs, as they can get fast connectivity almost everywhere in the world instantly and not depend on Wi-Fi or even their smartphones. So the dream of widespread 5G-capable laptops is not dead at Qualcomm; it may just be delayed. In the meantime, for laptop buyers that do need or want a 5G modem, there will still be at least a few premium laptop models on store shelves with the necessary hardware.

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