Apple, Qualcomm, Arm, x86 and Increased Silicon Competition

November 1, 2023 / Ben Bajarin

In the latest episode of the Circuit Ben Bajarin and Jay Goldberg discuss the increased competition coming in semiconductors and specific to the personal computer space.

Qualcomm Doubles Down on Custom Arm

At Snapdragon Summit, Qualcomm confirmed that all of its future products will utilize its own customized ARM core designs rather than off-the-shelf ARM cores. This allows Qualcomm to fully optimize performance, efficiency, AI capabilities, and other metrics without being constrained by generic ARM core limitations.

While an expensive investment, returning to fully custom ARM gives Qualcomm engineers the freedom to innovate, it signals a major commitment to challenging x86 in PCs and data centers with its ARM-based Snapdragon processors.

Snapdragon X Elite Benchmark Results Impress

Qualcomm unveiled its new Snapdragon X Elite chip for Windows PCs at the event. The benchmark results revealed a significant performance leap over past Snapdragon processors, bringing Qualcomm much closer to parity with Apple’s M-series chips.

The custom architectures clearly make a difference – when using off-the-shelf ARM cores, Qualcomm struggled to match Apple’s performance. Now, with custom designs, the gap has narrowed considerably.

Can ARM Gain Share in PCs from Intel/AMD?

While Windows laptops running Snapdragon chips will soon compete performance-wise with MacBooks, it remains to be seen if ARM can gain significant market share from Intel and AMD.

Consumers still largely choose Windows vs. macOS rather than making purchase decisions based on underlying chip architecture. For ARM to disrupt the PC ecosystem, its real-world benefits will need to be compelling enough to overcome user familiarity with x86.

Apple’s New M3 Chips Raise the Bar Again

Apple’s latest M3 silicon establishes new performance records with both efficiency and raw power improvements over prior Apple chips. New optimizations like throttling P-cores all the way to zero frequency when idle demonstrate Apple’s expertise in ARM architecture.

The introduction of 3nm process technology to consumer devices is also notable, as Apple aims to lead the industry in advanced manufacturing capabilities.

AI Benchmarking Remains a Challenge

Both companies touched on AI performance, but quantifying AI capabilities with standard metrics remains difficult. While benchmarks like TOPS indicate raw neural processor power, real-world relevance depends on factors like maximum model sizes supported.

Apple declined to provide many technical details about its neural engine performance, instead simply positioning its chips as capable for developers building AI programs. This acknowledges that most consumers do not need the most advanced AI locally on devices.

The Competitive Environment Spurs Innovation

While Intel and AMD still dominate the PC and data center markets, Qualcomm and Apple are clearly raising the bar for ARM performance. Even if ARM remains a relatively small share of those segments, this heightened competition should spur all players to deliver better products benefiting customers.


Join the newsletter and stay up to date

Trusted by 80% of the top 10 Fortune 500 technology companies