Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 Will Be Able To Emulate x86

January 3, 2017 - Written By Daniel Fuller

ARM processors like Qualcomm’s offerings are traditionally unable to run apps made for the x86 processor architecture, but emulation has been getting better and better, and Qualcomm is betting on it being good enough to use as a selling point for their upcoming Snapdragon 835 processor. Normally, emulating x86 instructions to run Win32 apps is too hefty of a task for the average ARM processor to handle. Early attempts saw full Windows and its legacy apps being hacked onto phones like the ASUS ZenFone 2 that sported heavily modified yet weaker x86 processors, but performance was abysmal. The same couldn’t be said of a demo Qualcomm ran of Adobe Photoshop on their recent Snapdragon 820 processor. With the Snapdragon 835 poised to tower over the 820 in terms of raw power and efficiency, their hopes to emulate x86 legacy apps may just pan out this time.

Qualcomm has flatly announced that they plan on entering the consumer PC market alongside Microsoft with the Snapdragon 835; this is uncharted territory for Qualcomm, since their house specialty ARM processors have traditionally sported fairly low amounts of power. The Snapdragon 835, by current metrics, stands to be tens of times more powerful than the x86 processors found in older laptops, such as the Intel Atom series. This means that it stands a decent chance of being able to emulate x86 processes quite well, depending on the optimization and workload.

Together, Microsoft and Qualcomm plan to create a version of Windows 10 with all the functionality of the standard version, but built to run on the Snapdragon 835. Qualcomm said as much at CES, and the Snapdragon 835 backs it up with not only an excess of raw muscle, but with support for DirectX 12, potentially allowing the processor to wind up in low-power gaming laptops, alongside low-voltage GPUs from the likes of AMD and NVIDIA. This move also means smaller, lighter, cooler-running, and longer-running PCs, though their power won’t quite match up to Intel’s Core i and Core m offerings for the time being. While Qualcomm may not be holding a flame under Intel or AMD with their first foray into the full PC market, things look pretty promising at this stage.